September 27, 2008

Summer Breeze (Makes Me Feel Fine)

It is pouring rain this evening and the leaves are starting to change. Cambridge smells like earthworms. Seems like a good time to open a bottle of Primitivo, make some meatballs, and look back at August...

Overexposed lighthouse in Boston Harbor

(Cue slideshow music by Seals and Crofts)

See the curtains hanging in the window
In the evening on a Friday night
A little light a-shining through the window
Lets me know every thing's all right...

LSB and I paid a visit to Heather, Jamey, Libby,
two dogs, a cat, many chickens, and thousands of hippies.

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Berries at the ByWard Market in Ottawa

LSB likes Canada

A big pile of Canadian corn

Adam is serious about cucumbers

See the paper laying on the sidewalk
A little music from the house next door
So I walk on up to the door step
Through the screen and across the floor

Sailboats on the Charles (sigh)

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

A picnic on the Esplanade with LSB,
a wedge of bree, and a thermos full of rosé

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine's in bloom
July is dressed up and playing her tune
When I come home from a hard day's work
And you're waiting there, not a care in the world

A view of Boston from the Harbor Islands

See the smile a waiting in the kitchen
Food cooking and the plates for two
Feel the arms that reach out to hold me
In the evening when the day is through

The dark 'n' stormy's were tasty here, too.

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

(Soundtrack inspired by an ironic/eclectic compilation CD created by Hugh for my birthday)

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September 18, 2008

Breakfast in Brazil

SP, from space (a cool setting on my digital camera)
I managed to go a full 9 days in South America without making a serious mistake. I avoided dangerous areas, kept most of my money & valuables in my hotel safe, and was not tempted by street meat from the appetizing food stands and carts throughout the cities I visited. However, on the morning of my final day in Sao Paulo, I let a false sense of traveler's confidence get the best of me. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me start over at the beginning...

There was a live person inside this inflatable suit, I swear.
He/She waved at me.

I left my group of fellow admissions travelers in Lima, and arrived in Sao Paulo alone. It was cold and overcast, much like the other cities I visited, but this time it was cloudy in Portuguese--harsher and more intimidating.

I have no idea
Sao Paulo is a big city that looks like most any other big city--many tall buildings, crowded streets, crazy traffic. Suffering from severe travel fatigue after too much time in hotels, taxis, airports, and airplanes, I decided to wander around the Paulista area of the city, looking at people, shops, and restaurants.

Only 59 more beers and I win a Heineken 5L mini-keg!
It was the travel fatigue that led me to the mall and the travel fatigue that made me choose Japanese food over Bob's, but it was the food court sukiyaki that made me feel kind of ill. While it was interesting that the one thing that would make my stomach uneasy after over a week spent eating guinea pig, raw fish, and unidentified pastries from the hotel breakfast buffet, was simple Japanese food from a mall, this was not my mistake.

On my first night in Sao Paulo, I had a nice, simple steak with a delicious horseradish sauce. On my second night, I went to a mediocre Churrascuria near my hotel. They had a meager salad bar and you had to go over to the guy at grill with your plate in order to get your meat. On the third night, I went to an awesome Churrascuria--the type where they walk around to your table and slice many different types of meat (mostly beef on giant swords) onto your plate until you tell them to stop. I had way too much meat in Brazil, but this was not my mistake. Not exactly.

I awoke early on my last day, as I needed to pack, find someplace to have coffee and a quick breakfast, and get back to the hotel in time for a few last meetings. I had intended on going to "Bella Paulista"--a bakery/bodega/restaurant down the street from my hotel where I had eaten 2-3 meals over the past few days--but instead I stopped at pastry shop/cafe on the corner, as I was in a hurry it looked less crowded.

Brazil in giant Legos
I looked at the pastries behind the glass counter and noticed, what I confidently assumed was, the doughnut-like thing I had eaten the previous morning--a doughy cylinder covered with cinnamon and powdered sugar. As they were small and I wouldn't be able to have lunch until after 2 PM, I ordered two--by pointing enthusiastically and giving the peace sign--and a cappuccino. All was well with the world.

Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP)--I even went inside
Then, I took a bite. Have you ever put salt in your coffee accidentally or consumed something you expected to be sweet when it was really savory? Have you ever bitten into something without filling, only to discover that your expectations had tricked you and it was full of jelly, cream, or something else? Have you ever taken a bite of a cinnamon covered doughnut only to realize that it was actually a Brazilian corndog? Coated in a thick layer of dough, deep fried and covered with something that looked like cinnamon (but, I assure you, was not cinnamon), was a hot dog...and I had ordered two. That was my mistake.

A leafy, green park near MASP


Later that evening, as my Japanese-Brazilian taxi driver blared samba music and talked about Obama, McCain, and China, my stomach was still uneasy (I had taken only a few bites, but I hadn't completely recovered from the early-morning hot dog surprise). Churrascurias lined the highway to the airport (along with everyone's favorite place to buy pets, the "Marginal Pet Shop"), their neon signs taunting me with their promises of more meat and no disguises. No, not this time--I already gave you three nights. The fourth night belongs to my fish and vegetable-loving wife.

September 14, 2008

The Earth-Maker Is A Stick


Lima is huge. Apparently, the population swelled in the 80s, as people from the countryside fled to the city in order to escape the terror of the Shining Path. It is also mostly poor, too, as, among other things, the economy has never been able to handle this massive migration.

The Pacific Ocean
Oblivious to this reality, I stayed in a posh hotel in the Miraflores (literally: "view of flowers") district of Lima, which is right on the coast and is pretty (it reminded me of California), safe, and affluent—all of the things that the rest of Lima is not. Someone told me that Lima is possibly the most dangerous city in South America, but I spent most of my free time wandering around Miraflores, riding in taxis, and visiting pre-Incan ruins just outside of town.

"Friar's Leap" (there's a story here, but I won't go into it)

On the first evening in Lima, I had some time to kill before meeting the others for dinner, so I wandered down to the hotel bar. Turns out it was Happy Hour—which, did not mean cheap drinks as I had thought when I ordered my first Pisco Sour--Peru’s signature cocktail. As soon as I finished my Pisco, the bartender quickly replaced it with a new one and informed me that Happy Hour means 2-for-1.

Maybe it was just the sense of adventure upon arriving in a new city, or perhaps it was the extra alcohol, but I thought it was somehow important that I order cuy for dinner.


It was actually pretty good—though a bit on the salty side and full of little tiny bones. It was very crispy and tasted a bit like rabbit or chicken. I finished it all and was quite thankful that it didn’t come to the table as I had initially imagined--sprawled out on a tiny platter with a grape in its mouth.

The next morning, energized by little beast’s blood, we hired a van and guide to take us to some ruins about 45 minutes outside of town. The route took us along the coast, through a poor suburb of Lima (an endless jumble of unstable, tin-roofed shacks sprawled out near and on top of enormous sand dunes), and eventually joined the Pan-American Highway.

Our destination was Pachacamac, dusty, pre-Incan ruins that are still being excavated.


The story of Pachacamac, the city, is complicated. Apparently it was first built by one group of people, then another group took over and added to it, then the Inca’s stopped by and added a little something to it, before the Spaniards arrived and, well, did what the Spaniards tended to do in this part of the world: ruin everything.

Basically, from what I remember, Pachacamac was considered the “Earth-Maker” and he lived in a pyramid. People would travel great distances to consult the oracle of Pachacamac to get advice about elections, politics, agriculture, war, etc. However, only a certain group of elite priests could consult with P. They would take hallucinogens, wander into the dark room where he resided, and ask his advice.

The Sun Pyramid, I think

They would also sacrifice all of the pretty, noble and smart young girls in town in order to win his favor. Apparently, if you only had 2 of the 3 characteristics, you became either a wife to one of the leaders or a teacher. I never found out what happened to the ugly, dumb, and classless girls, but I bet it was better than being bludgeoned, quartered, and decapitated at the top of a pyramid (though there was a pretty view from up there).

It's a good thing that I'm only 1-for-3 on the sacrificial scale.

At any rate, this went on for a while, until Pizarro—Francisco’s brother—arrived and demanded to meet the Earth-Maker. Eventually, the priests gave in and let him in the pyramid. Well, Pizarro decided to enter P’s house with a clear mind and a candle, so he soon discovered that Pachacamac was just a stick. A cool, carved stick with 2 faces, but a stick, nonetheless.


(At one point in the visit, Ryan, one of my companions on the trip, turned to me and said, “so basically, they got hopped up on drugs, crawled around in the dark, talked to a stick, and then elected their leaders?” I wondered whether or not we've regressed politically.)

One of the many accomplishments of the Inca was the invention of the
stewardess. Did they have overhead bins back then?

So anyway, the conquistador’s brother ruined it for everyone by breaking Pachacamac in half and all of the people--surprised that their god didn't unleash his vengence--converted to Christianity. I may have missed a step or two, but you get the point.

Pachacamac Petting Zoo (I did not eat the llama nor the ugliest dog ever)

Well, that was yesterday. Tonight, it's raining in Sao Paulo and I need some sleep.

September 12, 2008

Taxicab Confessions with Juan Valdez

Bogota was a blur: 48 hours of taxis, conversations about Colombian politics, and endless exchanges of handshakes and business cards.

A Restaurant in the Magical Bogota Airport

Arriving at the airport, I encountered an immigration agent who, after trying to communicate with me unsuccessfully in Spanish (I realized on this trip that my Spanish is useless), just gave up, smiled, and waved me past.

Wise Words of Caution from My Hotel Toilet

While I managed to somehow avoid any substantive, meaningful cultural/tourist activity while in town--including visiting the apparently impressive La Candelaria--I did see some things.


After checking into my hotel, we wandered around "La Zona Rosa," hungry and disoriented, before settling on Club Colombia beers and a platter of mediocre, mulicolored epanadas at "La Casa de la Cerveza."

I didn't go here

Due mainly to the policies of a slightly frightening-yet-effective president, Bogota is considered safer now--well, at least the affluent parts. However, it is a bit disconcerting to see armed guards literally at every corner and at every entrance to a store, restaurant, or bar. I even watched through the airplane window as the baggage handlers were frisked on the tarmac.

Apparently this place has really good búfalo wings

We stopped to get coffee at the Colombian version of Starbucks and whiled away our time watching the bomb-sniffing dogs go to work on every car attempting to enter the parking garage below the mall next door.

This place was so much cooler before someone told us they have them in the U.S. too.

Dinner was at the creatively named "La Fusion," which was a Colombian-Italian/Greek/French/Asian/etc. fusion restaurant--where I had the plantain muzaka and shrimp ceviche (with plantains).

While at a local supermarket trying to pick up a cultural gift or two, a kind woman employee apparently noticed the perplexed expression on my face in the coffee isle and made me smell each kind. "Hmmm...fuerte"

The rest was just images through the windows of many, many taxis.

On the way to the airport...

September 08, 2008

Hamlet at 9,000 feet

Quito from a hill

Skirting the dramatic, dark clouds of Hurricane Ike, I arrived in Quito, Ecuador last night at around 11 PM and checked in to my hotel--a JW Marriott in the heart of "Gringolandia."

Where I bought all of my cultural gifts for folks back home

After a late dinner of pringles from the minibar and fitful night's sleep, I awoke, looked out my window at a volcano, and got dressed for breakfast. While there were many a la carte options on the menu, it was clear that the waitstaff wanted me to choose the buffet.

View from the old town

A cafe con mucho leche, a few assorted pastries, and guanabana yogurt later, Hamlet, our Ecua-doorman with a blue coat and tophat, helped arrange to have a driver take us around Quito for a few hours. So, a group of 6 assorted university admissions people packed into an SUV and headed to the old town, the colonial center of Quito, and, older than "new town."

Plaza Grande

We visited a few churches, wandered the narrow streets, and lingered in front of the Presidential Palace in Plaza Grande. A crowd had gathered to watch the weekly changing of the guard.

The Changing of the Small Men in Bright Blue Suits

Once the Palace had a fresh, new guard in place, we walked to Plaza San Francisco--in front of Ecuador's oldest church. Apparently, the builder of the plaza was a lazy man and asked the devil to help him complete the project in return for his soul. At the last possible moment the guy removed one brick, thus making the plaza incomplete and tricking the devil. True story.

Me & Quito

After a quick, bumpy drive up to the top of El Panecillo for some views of the city below, we headed back to gringolandia.

September 05, 2008

Travels with Pucho

I'm going here... week.

September 01, 2008

My Birthday with Elvis

In order to help distract me from the piling on of years, LSB piled on the birthday gifts--including a shiny, new iPod (my old mini mysteriously disappeared during a recent trip) and a weekend getaway to Saratoga Springs, NY to see Elvis Costello and The Police at SPAC.

Pucho Brown II

I've been a fan of The Police since I was a small child and later developed an interest in Elvis Costello during my time as a seriously mediocre DJ for my college radio station. When this tour was announced, I felt like it was designed just for me--sort of like when you walk into a store (or watch an episode of something like "House") and hear 2-3 songs from your personal collection right in a row and think, wow, they really nailed the demographics on this one--I should buy some pants here or something. Sort of like that, but different.

SPAC has this strange "beer garden" set-up: an enclosed pen far from the stage, which was the only place you could purchase and consume alcohol. Standing in the isolated alcohol holding pen, I suddenly felt like a elderly smoker who has been forced to watch helplessly as their freedoms have slowly been stripped away, year after year, until they find themselves relegated to a tiny, glass enclosed waiting area in the most remote part of the airport terminal.

So, we were in the process of drinking our Yankee-stadium-priced beers when, way off in the distance, we heard faint musical murmurs that indicated the show may have started without us. I gulped down my largish beer and helped finish LSB's smallish one and we headed out on our long journey through the masses of Saratogians to locate our little blanket on the lawn.

Elvis was pretty awesome and when Sting joined in on "Alison," I couldn't have been more pleased, unless, of course, my name had been "Alison." That would have been a defining moment for me, I think. At any rate, EC finished up and the Police took the stage. Sting sounded great and Stewart Copeland had this impressive percussion set-up that looked like a blacksmith's workshop--various metal objects hanging on racks for him to hammer on now and again.

Gordo, Andy, and Stew

We met a couple on the blanket in front of us, who creatively smuggled in rum (no alcohol or glass allowed through the gates) in multiple layers of ziplock bags hidden amongst their food items. While they didn't give us any, we admired their ingenuity and befriended them nonetheless.

A beautiful evening. Thanks, LSB.