Thursday, March 31, 2011

No walk in the park

Havaianas
Portuguese for Hawaiians
Brazilian for flip-flops

Apparently they're taking the fashion world by storm and are currently the 'must-have' item of footwear for celebs around the world. Well, never one to miss out on a passing bandwagon, I went out last week and bought myself a pair. Admittedly, it was less to do with a desire to position myself on the cutting edge of style and more to do with the fact that one of my sandals decided to separate into two parts while I was half a mile from home and I needed a cheap and easily-obtainable replacement.

Anyway, out here, Havaianas are not so much fashionable as ubiquitous. You will find them supporting everything from the most expensively pedicured, nail-varnished and tattooed feet in the city to the filthy, cracked and calloused specimens of the catadores (rubbish collectors). And when I say 'supporting' I use the word in its most generous sense because there is, of course, no support there whatsoever. Just a little bit of friction between two uncomfortably stretched toes - friction which rapidly vanishes when it rains, I might add. And as it rains pretty much without warning out here, foot and flip-flop can quickly become separated.

My flip-flops and my body double - much cuter toes than me!
They're also no use when attempting that common paulistano pastime - trying to cross the road. When you have to navigate an eight-lane dual-carriageway just to get to the shops, it's nice to be able to put on a sudden burst of speed when the pedestrian phase abandons you mid-crossing. Believe me, when this happens, a flip-flop is not your friend - even one that can take the fashion world by storm.

Also, personal experience (somewhat brief but visually entertaining) has demonstrated that Havaianas are clearly not an accessory recommended for use with a skateboard. There is some debate within family circles as to whether the Havaianas actually made much of a difference at all, but I still maintain that my fakie switch 360 shuvit was way crazy insane. Anyway, moving swiftly on...

This is how you do it, Dad!
One area in which Havaianas do excel however is design. Not content with simply offering their customer a varied selection of colours, they have perfected the art of flip-flop... well, art. It is now possible to precariously balance your feet on top of literally hundreds of possible colours, designs, patterns, images, logos or photos. I've even been to a children's party where one of the activities was designing and colouring your own pair. Of course, given that the primary function of your new artwork is to be trodden on and covered up by your feet, it's perhaps not the best way to publicly display your individuality. They do look nice displayed on the wall however so maybe the point is to hang them up somewhere when you get in.

Sadly, I was unable to pander to my more flamboyant side when I went to buy mine as I was in something of a hurry and was forced to take my pick from the rather lacklustre selection they had on offer in Lojas Americanas (something like Woolworth's). I went for a nice blue/green combo with some arty wording on them. I'm not exactly sure what it says as it's in an unhelpfully squashed font but Helen assures me the second word is paradise. The first one though, is beyond us, except that it definitely ends in 'poo'.

So now I have a good solid pair of Poo Paradise flip-flops. I can't run in them, I can't skateboard in them, I can't keep them on when it rains and I can't display them to full advantage without taking them off first. But at least I can walk in them, which is more than can be said for my old sandals. Also, simply by slipping them onto my feet I can now pass for Brazilian - really, just like that!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Out of Town

If you ask any well-off resident of São Paulo for five things worth doing in the city, one of the five will almost certainly be to get out of it. And every Friday evening thousands of them do just that, as soon as they can bunk off work. Of course, the very lucky ones pack up and head off on Thursday to avoid the traffic, and the very annoying ones just get in their helicopters and drown out all conversation in a ten-block radius whenever they feel like it.

And needless to say, the destination of choice is the beach. The nearest bit of coast is about an hour-and-a-half's drive out of the city and from there sandy beaches stretch away in either direction for about half a continent. There are party beaches, family beaches, private beaches, surfer beaches... you just pick your own brand of paradise and get there as soon as you can, determined to enjoy every moment until you have to get back in your car on Sunday afternoon and spend five hours in a queue to get back to the city you were so desperate to get away from two days before.

Ever since we arrived here last July people have been telling us we should get out to the coast at the weekends. You ask those same well-off paulistanos where to go and they will reel off a list of their favourite beaches quicker than you can write down the names - and certainly quicker than they could name the same number of places to visit within the city. They will know the best resorts, the best places to stay, the nicest restaurants, where to find the best surf, or the safest places for children to swim. Not surprising, perhaps, considering the amount of time they've spent researching.

Anyway, following the old adage "when in Rome, follow everyone else out of town at the weekend" we finally packed ourselves off on our very first beach holiday in Brazil - a mere eight months after getting here - and headed out to the lovely resort of Juquehy. Given that the kids were off school for Carnaval, we set off on the Thursday morning and so the journey was a perfectly manageable two hours fifty. And against all expectation, the sun came out about fifteen minutes before we arrived and stayed with us for the rest of that day and the whole of the following, making our trip just about as perfect as it could have been.

On arrival we met up with friends who had travelled up on the previous day and the eight of us spent a wonderfully lazy afternoon of sun, sand and surf, drinking chilled agua de coco straight from the coconut and eating frozen açaí while the children hurled themselves at waves several times their height. Actually, the wave diving was a lot of fun and I spent a fair amount of the day doing it as well. So much, in fact, that by mid-afternoon I was beginning to wish I'd spent more time under the umbrella. Red patches were beginning to appear in odd places I'd clearly missed with the suntan lotion and I decided to spend the remainder of the day in t-shirt and long shorts.

Late afternoon involved a wonderfully bumpy and wet trip on a motor boat out to one of the islands just off-shore for a change of scene. I spent about half-an-hour clambering over rocks and wandering up and down a practically deserted beach while Helen and the kids indulged in more swimming and David drew some interesting pictures in the sand. Then it was another splashy ride back to the mainland and back to the hotel to wash off all the sand and salt-encrusted suntan lotion and get ready for dinner.

Dinner was at the lovely Badauê restaurant which is built right over the beach and is open to the sea and the sunset. We missed seeing the sun actually disappear below the hills, but sitting eating fresh and beautifully cooked fish while the sea slowly disappears into the darkness was a fabulous experience and one I haven't enjoyed for many, many years. The decision to finish off the evening with crêpes across the street was also inspired, not just because there are few things as nice as a pancake bursting at the seams with oozing chocolate but because while we were all sitting there at the side of the road, another one of James' school friends wandered by and stopped to say hello.

Turns out his family own an apartment right next door to the crêperia (how handy is that?) and they come up to Juquehy pretty much every weekend. So on our second day, there were six children in our group, and the two new ones came with bikes, surfboards, a swimming pool and a very delicious and unexpected lunch. Sadly, having only partially learned my lesson from the day before, I again managed to get a bit too much sun - it's amazing just how unforgiving the sun can be of poorly applied suntan lotion - but with the waves coming in even bigger than on the first day, I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to get salt water up my nose as often as possible.

Day three was much more subdued. Everyone else in the party had packed up and headed back to São Paulo and although it was still nice and warm, the sun remained firmly behind thick cloud all day. Actually, this was a blessing as it didn't stop us from having as much fun as usual, but it did stop me getting any redder along the way. By lunchtime Helen and I were ready to head home and so the boys were dragged unenthusiastically from their body-boarding and sandcastle-making and bundled into the car for another three hour drive which got us home just in time for tea - followed by an hour of trying to clean sand out of absolutely everything we'd taken with us, whether it had gone anywhere near the beach or not.

So there you have it - our first beach holiday. I feel like a proper paulistano now. Although having said that I actually quite like being in the city on the weekend anyway - it's quiet and we have plenty of things to entertain us right here. Also, going midweek and coming back on the Saturday was convenient for avoiding the worst of the traffic but we can only do that when the kids are on holiday and I really don't like the idea of six to eight hours in a car for twenty-four hours at the beach which is what it would be on a normal weekend.

Still, we'll definitely do it again whenever the opportunity arises and having done it once we'll be much better prepared in future. Cooler swimwear for James, a bucket and spade for David, fewer clothes not designed for the beach, twice as much suntan lotion... and most important of all, our own coffee maker!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Party Time

It's Carnaval! (That's how we spell it over here).

But sorry to disappoint all those of you hoping for a series of photos of carnival queens wearing nothing but body paint and a big smile - you'll just have to make do with David's plasticine figure. Because in this household, Carnaval is merrily passing us by almost unnoticed. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that the kids are off school for the week and the roads are deserted, I wouldn't even know there was anything special happening at all. São Paulo just isn't a party town. Those who love to have fun have all packed themselves off to Rio for the duration, because that's where there are endless street parties and processions and samba bands and what have you. And those who love to avoid the fun have all packed themselves off to the hills for some peace and quiet. And those who have to write for foreign newspapers are sitting at their desks as if it's just another working week - because that's what it is.

And anyway, for us this week is all about something even more important than Carnaval  - David's fifth birthday. It's not something I'm ever likely to forget anyway, but he's had me counting down to it since something like mid-November so I'm almost as relieved as he is to finally see the actual day arrive. In fact, celebrations began last week. As so many people will be away this week we decided to have his party after school last Friday and after much discussion and planning and a lot of parental vetoes we settled on inviting all the boys from his class - making a perfectly manageable total of five. And I have to say it all went incredibly well.

For once I managed to over-cater by no more than 20% or so - so thankfully we don't have to live off stale cheese buns and Doritos for the next week. The cake was eaten in its entirety, David was given some lovely presents, and the afternoon's only casualty was me, burning a finger and thumb in attempting to remove a sparkler from the cake. Our previous attempts at hosting children's parties in the house have resulted in several cuts and bruises, a finger trapped in a door and even a trip to A&E for some cranial stitches so this one was a piece of cake (ha ha).

Moving on to the birthday itself and the day began pleasantly late with a treasure hunt courtesy of James, who had spent a great deal of time hiding presents and clues all around the lounge the night before. David loved it. Every clue was exciting and every present was "absolutely awesome".

Sadly, the rain then decided to come down and as I'd promised to take the boys out for lunch to somewhere half-an-hour's walk away, things were not quite as perfect as I could have hoped for. Still, when Helen decided she could afford to take a two hour lunch break and join us, we went anyway. And really, it was only drizzle. It certainly didn't stop us enjoying the walk or the food at the end of it.

So, that's David pretty much dealt with. Now I can move on to James, who is already planning what he wants for his birthday. However, today being Fat Tuesday, I think I owe it to myself to give up planning birthdays for Lent - that ought to give me a few weeks of peace and quiet. Although now that I think of it, I should probably start hunting around soon for somewhere I can buy huge big Easter eggs. I suspect there will be requests...