Friday, December 19, 2014

[The Life of Shaun #506] Don't cry for me, it's only 40

The last leg of the birthday tour was the city of fair winds, Buenos Aires.  South America's most elegant city proudly, some might say arrogantly, compares itself to the capitals of Europe rather than those of South America.  It's an easy comparison to pull off; wandering its central streets, ignorant of location, you could guess you were in Spain's own elegant Barcelona as readily as Buenos Aires.  The buildings and people are handsome, outwardly prosperous, and very European in demeanour and aesthetic.  Other than a splash of grit across some buildings in otherwise impeccable neighbourhoods, and a very favourable "blue dollar", there is no hint of the mess that is modern Argentina.

Buenos Aires is a reserved city - it doesn't have the flash of Rio, or the energy of São Paulo.  The city takes life at its own pace, which can be challenging for someone who thrives on urban energy, but I eventually gave in.  Though rich in history, there are few must-see sights, and you cover them quickly, leaving you with an abundance of time to feel the city, lingering at any of the endless outdoor tables, in flawless weather, having one more nibble or, more likely, one more drink.

Our flat - sorry, our house - was right in the middle of Palermo, the it neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.  Our host was a sommelier, and we were across the street from a wine shop, so felt very quickly at home.  We spent our days rotating between the lounge, roof terrace, and having a nibble; our evenings rotating between the lounge, roof terrace, me having a nibble, Rachel, Darrin and Russ steak, and a gay bar or two.

When the big day came, we maintained the routine, just slightly upscaled.  Originally I had planned a dinner nearby, but during our roaming of the city we became enamoured with Recoleta, a neighbourhood that abuts Buenos Aires' poorest, but has charming, bohemian small streets, which are closed to vehicle traffic at the weekend, and opted to dine there instead.  I chose to have my birthday dinner at L'Atelier de Celine, a modest restaurant run by a French woman who studied business in America, worked in advertising, then tired of her corporate life and decided to follow her dream of being part of the gastronomy world, travelling the globe until her journey took her to Buenos Aires, which she never left.  This was a place whose spirit felt right to ring in my new decade.

We arrived at 9:00 - indecently early for the Latin world, but purposely, as we timed the evening for a leisurely, extended meal.  We were the first patrons to arrive, and were brought to the choice table on the upstairs terrace, on yet another perfect evening.  The dinner was amazing; for the first (and only) time in Argentina, I had truly delicious, satisfying vegetarian food.  The wine was divine, the service refined but engaging, and I had people with some of the deepest roots into my life with me.  

And then, that was it - I was officially 40.  Now that wasn't so bad, was it?



Our beautiful neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, like so much of the city, has dignified bones...


...which occasionally give way to the grit of a city under economic siege.



Though in the wealthy centre, you'd be hard-pressed to find signs of struggle, even if it's all the locals talk about.



We felt very welcome in our neighbourhood!


The urban art shines brightly in Palermo.



Some of it was a little less inviting - though no one was upset about accepting Yanki dollars...



How we spent our afternoons...



...and our mornings after.


Gran Gomero, a massive tree in the centre of the city.  The branches spread out for tens of metres, held above restaurants and sidewalks by supports, one statue, and one Rachel Klem.


9 de Julio Avenue, the widest avenue in the world.  The tall building at the back, adorned with her likeness, is where Eva Perón used to throw money down to the crowds.

Still not happy about how that whole Falklands thing...


La Boca, a colourful barrio turned touristy; tango shows and lessons were given to the Western visitors along with their plonk and over-cooked steak.



Don't cry for us, Argentina - in front of the Casa Rosada.


The grave everyone comes to see.



Vishnu Petroni



Buenos Aires was so kind as to hold its Gay Pride on my birthday weekend to celebrate me being in town.


Birthday dinner!


Four diners, four corks.



And the perfect birthday cake...



...wine and no cake!


Shaun H. Coley ~ Kentish Town
 ~ Camden ~ London NW5 ~ UK ~ shaunism.blogspot.com

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

[The Life of Shaun #505] 14,609

Russ, Rachel and Darrin had a birthday surprise for me: Iguazú Falls.  They decided that, despite my urban tendencies, we couldn't go to that part of the world and not see the falls.  So on Thursday, 13 November, we stirred in the morning to catch the flight for a daytrip quite unlike my normal excursions.

Iguazú (or Iguaçu, on the Brazilian side) is a collection of 275 waterfalls spanning the border of Argentina and Brazil.  Though they are neither the tallest nor widest falls in the world, they are some of the most spectacular.  Less obvious, but just as important, the geography of Iguazú allows for favourable vistas that aren't possible at some of the world's other great falls.

And so I spent my last day before middle age not in a bar or restaurant, as expected, but surrounded by a natural wonder with my close friends.  And we made it back to our flat in Buenos Aires with enough time to open a bottle of Malbec and have a glass at midnight for my birthday toast.  It was perfect.




Igazú bus selfie!  To minimise traffic, noise and pollution, only park and tour busses are allowed inside the falls area.


The first view of the falls comes quite suddenly as you round a corner.  Their sudden appearance and beauty took everyone by surprise; all at once, the chatter and activity on the bus halted as we were all drawn into the view.



From above the Devil's Throat (the largest single waterfall), you can look downriver and see some of the many smaller falls that make up Igazú.


Up close...


...their raw power is more apparent.


What looks like a light mist on the viewing path quickly turns out to be a soaking atmosphere of water...


...as our post-walk selfie shows.



Not wanting to stay dry for too long, we decided to take a speedboat ride on the river...


...which literally took us into the falls.


Russ and me, age 14,609 days.


Shaun H. Coley ~ Kentish Town
 ~ Camden ~ London NW5 ~ UK ~ shaunism.blogspot.com

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

[The Life of Shaun #504] Pervin' in Rio

Rio is a great city to discover that your camera's zoom works great as a pervin' lens: the beautiful city attracts the beautiful people.

Rio de Janeiro - the January River - was the city on the tour I was the least excited about.  The urbanist in me was fascinated by the megacity of São Paulo, the amateur architecture enthusiast was dazzled by piles of Brasília, and the laid-back tourist wanting wine, food and song with his friends was looking forward to the gentle Buenos Aires.  But sun, beaches, tans and gym bunnies?  That's not what makes it onto my itineraries.  However, Rio is a must-do, and I was excited to see the undeniably striking topography, and to see Brazil's take on slums with a favela our.

Rio is the point where Rachel Klem and Darrin Wayne Maurer met up with Russ and me for the second half of the adventure.  From the moment our beautiful host showed us into our beautiful flat with its beautiful view, the mood for the weekend was set; I was helpless against the charms of the Marvelous City.

Rio de Janeiro's beauty cannot be oversold.  It's set around the mouth of a large bay, too big to see across, giving it the feel of an island city.  Improbably steep mountains jut out from the ocean, creating an undulating coastline of peaks and valleys, around and across which the city is set, encirlced by white sandy beaches.  Everywhere you go in the city you are aware of elevation and sea.  The architecture is pleasant, but innocuous; there is little to excite you, but nothing to offend you either - the architecture takes a backseat to the setting.  I lived in San Francisco, and have been to Sydney and Seattle, all of which are gorgeous cities in their own right, but the scale and spectacle of Rio put them in its shadow.

The three happiest things I found out about Rio were that it's not always sunny, it's very easy for a vegetarian to have great food, and the beaches and their culture are not the dominant factor in the city's character.  Perhaps it's because they are so copious, but they are given over to myriad activities and uses, not just for tanning the beautiful.  There is so much going on away from the beaches, though, that we actually spent next to no time at them.  We stayed in Ipanema, which is host to one of Rio's two famous beaches (the other is its neighbour, Copacabana), but which had a surprisingly un-beachy, if not bohemian, atmosphere.  

The area is packed with bars and restaurants, and though the businesses nearest the beach were obviously bent towards tourists,  you saw mostly locals going about their lives, walking their dogs, taking a lunch break, carrying supplies home after a show.  It's not showy or glossy or narcissistic; it's vibrant, but relaxed and satisfied, somewhere that I could imagine living.  That's not something I often say about a beach city.  While I can't colour all of Rio shades of Ipanema, the city is absent of São Paulo's fear and tension, and much of the rest of the city we saw had the agreeable feel of Ipanema; even the favelas had an alegria de viver about them.  Cariocas, as Rio's inhabitants are called, know what a lucky place they call home.




Sugarloaf Mountain sits at the mouth of Rio's harbour...



..and is a rickety ride up two separate cable cars...



...with one of Earth's most stunning urban views as your reward at the top.



Flying out, you can see the shape of Rio.  Ipanema is the beach on the lower left; Copacabana is to its right; Sugarloaf to the right of that; and the urban core above that is downtown Rio de Janeiro, where the city was founded.


Heading out on our favela (slum) tour, we started to ascend the hills and caught a view looking down on Rio.  Paradoxically, in many Latin American cities, the favelas are high above the cities, commanding the best views.  This is a hangover from the days of poor transportation, when the only viable way to get home was to walk.  Much like New York's prewar walk-ups, the higher up you went, the cheaper it got.



The favelas spread up an over Rio's hills, built on any incline that could possibly support a home.


Though obviously poor, there is no destitution like you see in India's slums.  Many of India's normal streets and homes are in far worse shape than Brazil's favelas.  This was not always the case; up until several years before the World Cup, Rio's slums were notorious ganglands.  In preparation for the World Cup in 2014, and Olympics in 2016, Rio began pacifying its favelas, routing out the druglords, bringing a sense of peace, and installing running water and electricity.


Around 80% of Rio's favelas are now "pacified", and safe enough to walk around...


...and have a drink in.


The view from our flat was one of the views, of Christ the Redeemer - when it broke through the clouds, that is.


A ten-minute stroll away was the incomparable Ipanema beach.


But we soon found the most beautiful view from the flat was out a back window.


Rio has a great bar scene, where we had the most fun on the trip.  Even Rachel got oodles of attention!


This will always be known as the trip where Russ spilled and I did not!


Ah, but what would Rio be without a beach shot?


Or two?



Or outside a café?



Or in?



But despite all our best efforts, not everything was a success; the man just outside Rachel's room's window...


...is the one that got away...



Shaun H. Coley ~ Kentish Town
 ~ Camden ~ London NW5 ~ UK ~ shaunism.blogspot.com

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