Monday, February 28, 2005

Congrats on the Oscar, Bosshh

Random thoughts on last night's Oscars:

  • I would have given anything to have overhead the conversation in the limo ride home between Annette Bening and Warren Beatty. I doubt they discussed the finer points of Hilary Swank's acting abilities.

  • Chris Rock was a dud. His Opening Monologue was rude. Who is he to make fun of Jude Law or Nicole Kidman? (Although Sean Penn came off looking even worse, as usual.) The only funny bit he had was his interviews at the Magic Johnson Theater. I liked it when the lady told him to back off.

  • The show really missed Bruce Vilanch's comedy writing. He's been doing it since 1989 (having been brought on-board by Alan Carr.) B.V. has a recognizable patter to his jokes. Set-up, set-up, joke, laugh, pause, repeat. Since he's busy performing in Hairspray on Broadway we were abandoned -- and the show paid for his absence.

  • I'm really glad "Million Dollar Baby" won for Best Picture -- mostly because I wanted "The Aviator" to lose.

  • How in the world did Cate Blanchett win an Oscar for her screen-scaring performance as Katherine Hepburn in "The Aviator?" It's a movie, not a Saturday Night Live skit.

  • Before the show Cliff Smith and I discussed which actor they would honor as the last one mentioned in the salute to those who passed away in the last year. How did we both forget about Marlon Brando? That one was obvious.

With 20 minutes to spare, I finished seeing the nominated movies before the broadcast began. "I, Robot" was I, Diotic. The robot-hating police officer turns out to be part-robot. There's a new concept.

"Super Size Me," the documentary about the guy who ate nothing but food from McDonald's for a month, was actually pretty good. And alarming. It motivated me to go to the gym this morning -- so there's something.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Entertainment Tonight and This Afternoon and This Morning

Yesterday I watched two movies and a play and read two newspapers -- so I certainly consumed my share of media.

Drove to Norwalk to see "The Polar Express." It's a cute enough story, but I really didn't like the computer generated animation that relied on actors covered with electrodes with a computer tracking their actions. And what's with Tom Hanks playing five or more roles? Cheesy gimmick!

Why Norwalk? That's the closest city where it was still showing. Plus when was the last time you paid $2.75 to see a movie! (My Diet Coke was still $4.)

Of course Norwalk, with the offices of the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, will forever be known as the place Arianna Huffington famously knocked over the podium to get in the same camera shot as Arnold Schwarzenegger when they both were filing their papers to run for governor.

Then last night I saw Edward Albee's "The Goat or Who is Sylvia?" Stunning! Live theater has the ability to thrill like no other medium. This play explores the imposition of sexual taboos and the realization of parental imperfection in a way that had the audience (and me) gasping.

Finally I watched M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village." Typically for one of his movies -- it has a "surprise" ending that you can see coming for at least 60 painful meaning. At least in this one Bruce Willis isn't dead.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Here's Looking at You

The uproar over Gary Brolsma and his "Numa Numa Dance" reminds me never to have a webcam in my car. Sometimes I like to dance along to the songs while I'm driving. Fortunately, the only people who get to see the show are the ones in the next lane. Here's the link if you haven't seen what I'm writing about:

I'm closing in on my Oscar goal at a two movie a day clip.

Last night I saw "Downfall," a must-see German movie about the final days of Hitler during WWII. An absolutely gripping war film. I understand that some in Germany say that any film that shows the "humanity" of Hitler should not be allowed. This movie shows Hitler as a maniacal, crazy, sick man realizing his "dreams" were collapsing. Bruno Ganz turns in an amazing performance as Adolf Hitler. The scene of Magda Goebbels methodically poisoning her six children may be the most chilling I've ever seen.

And why was I the only one in the theater who laughed when the official marrying Hitler to Eva Braun (just before they killed themselves) out of routine asked to see Hitler's National ID card? Hello, it's Hitler!

On a MUCH lighter note, I also watched "Before Sunset" with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy -- a cute romantic movie. This is a follow-up to "Before Sunrise" with Hawke and Delpy reprising their roles of Jesse and Celine.

Friday, February 25, 2005


With the Oscars scheduled for Sunday I'm feeling the heat to see all the nominated movies before my (self-imposed) deadline.

I still need to see two movies running in theaters:

The Polar Express

and four that I can rent:

Before Sunset
I, Robot
Super Size Me
The Village

So let's hope my VCR can make it through the weekend. Of course, the Academy could have made my life a whole lot easier by not moving up the Oscars by a month!

Last night I rented "Maria Full of Grace." It's the story of a woman who attempts to escape poverty in Columbia by becoming a drug-running mule. It wasn't as intense an I expected it to be. And while Catalina Sandino Moreno gave a perfectly fine performance, it wasn't one of the five best of the year -- INMO. I'm still rooting for Imelda Staunton in "Vera Drake" though I expect Hilary Swank to win for "Million Dollar Baby."

My Trojan Basketball team didn't give me much to brag about last night as the Bruins completed a season sweep (for the first time in 4 years) by winning 90 to 69. But before my Bruin friends get all up in my face I'd like to remind them of two things: 1) It's all about the football and 2) I'm now living by the Code of Thug Life.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Point, Counter Point

One thing about seeing all the movies nominated for an Academy Award is I'm sure watching a lot of stuff I wouldn't otherwise see. Tuesday night I rented the nominated documentary "Tupac: Resurrection" about gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur. (Spoiler ahead.) So am I the only one who didn't know that he's dead -- from the second time he was shot? I also learned that when he was in prison the celebrity letter that touched him the most was the one from Tony Danza. I also learned about the "Code of Thug Life." I guess I'm spending too much time in Honkeytown -- because I missed the whole 1990s East Coast vs. West Coast Rapper War altogether.

Then last night I rented "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." That kid's getting a little too old to play a boy wizard. But it's fun listening for his voice to crack.

Now that I'm back home I'm getting to visit restaurant that serve the food I craved while away. Yesterday I had lunch at "The Apple Pan," which is an old time lunch counter with a menu that Johnny Rocket's completely ripped off. No tables at T.A.P., just a long counter. It's always crowded and the protocol is you wait for an open stool in the order you arrive at the restaurant. Yesterday, mid-meal, a guy asked me if I would move over so he and his buddy could sit together. I told the guy, "No, but I'll be through soon and you can sit here then." Well, the fellow got huffy and told his buddy in a loud voice, "He won't scoot!" I'll tell you what -- that slice of pie sure took a long time to go down!

The sun has finally come out in Los Angeles. The top of my Ford Mustang is down. A new ABBA CD I got from Max Fanali's school fund-raising drive is in the player. And I'm off.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Went back to work yesterday. Back to reality. I shaved off my beard. That took about 30 minutes. Now when I look in the mirror there sure is a lot of face looking back.

On the way to the office I treated myself by stopping off for breakfast in the Fountain Coffee Shop at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I haven't been there for a long time -- but I love that place. It's tiny -- just a counter. The banana leaf wallpaper is very kitsch.

A Kelly Ripa look-alike was having breakfast with her three rambunctious children at the far end of the counter. They must have been staying in the hotel. Her son (about 6) insisted he wanted to visit the La Brea Tar Pits AGAIN! Based on how the conversation was going, I think he got his way.

I hope they enjoy their vacation -- I had to go to the office.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

Glad to see I'm not the only one suffering in all this rain in Southern California. This afternoon I went to a large, old movie theater at Fairfax and Beverly. On the way in they had a large sign that the near-record level of rainfall has caused their roof to leak and therefore there were some "unusual smells" in the auditorium. That wasn't so bad, nor was all the roped off seats in the leak zone. But the sound of the water dripping from the high ceiling was kind of creepy.

I also rented "The Passion of the Christ." (Two Oscar nominations.) It was as gruesome as all the critics said. It was interesting to me how many parts of the story came back to me. However, I don't remember ever hearing about the earthquake following the crucifixion. And I regularly won First Place in Bible Camp.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Here Kitty, Kitty

Tonight I saw "Born Into Brothels," the Academy Award-nominated documentary about children growing up in the red light district in Calcutta. Too bad the documentarian allowed her ego to carry her away and the film ends up being about her "good deeds" rather than the original subject matter.

On a much lighter note, I rented Shrek 2 -- which received two Oscar nominations. I was glad to see Gingy come to the rescue in the end. Sorry if I just spoiled it for you.

I read where the authorities think a lion is loose somewhere near Simi Valley. You may remember that lion is the one category of animals in the "Big Five" I didn't see on my recent safari. So if anyone has an open jeep and wants to go tracking, just knock on my door at 5 a.m. and I'll go with you.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Splashing in Puddles

Enjoyed seeing Tovah Feldshuh's Tony-nominated performance tonight as Golda Meir in the one-woman show "Golda's Balcony." I learned a lot about the Yom Kippur War. I guess 10-year-old Teddy Green had no idea how close the world was to nuclear annihilation in 1973.

Before leaving on my trip I bought a pair of water proof boots. I figured they'd come in handy to get through winter in Europe and summer in Africa and South America. Well, I've worn them more this week in Los Angeles than I did on entire my trip. I'm already sick of the rain here and I've only been in it for a few days.

Friday, February 18, 2005

She'll Call Clinton!

Enjoyed showing my trip photos to Michael Self tonight over dinner at El Coyote. He came as close as anyone to seeing all 1,000. I think margaritas help the multi-media presentation.

This afternoon I saw "Meet the Fockers" in Santa Monica. It was OK, not as good as the first one. Like many movies today it had some funny vignettes after the film was over during the credits. You can imagine my shock when the credits suddenly ended during a funny scene between Barbra Streisand and a baby and were replaced by the theater's advertising.

On the way out I found the theater manager and told him he better hope Barbra never finds out what happened. She's had heads on a platter for far less an affront. The manager promised to fix the problem.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

My Good Deed for the Day

Saw a couple of Oscar nominated movies today: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events at the Beverly Center and Collateral on video. If you like Jim Carey, I recommend L.S. Maybe Collateral is better viewed in a theater, but it was pretty sorry on my TV set.

One thing I had forgotten about while I was away is how many telephone sales calls I get. Comcast called AGAIN tonight to sell me high speed Internet service.

While I don't like getting the calls, I'm never rude to the people on the phone. My first paid job in Washington, DC was soliciting for dollars over the phone from the basement of the RNC. So I know what it's like on the other end of the phone. So usually I just have fun with the callers.

Tonight I told Mr. Comcast that I thought the Internet was the work of the Devil. He missed a beat and then got back on script. He urged me to remember Comcast should I ever buy a computer. I told him I would consider that a sign of the apocalypse, in which case I would expect them to send my monthly bill directly to Lucifer. I don't think he could tell if I was pulling his leg or really crazy. At least he'll have a good story to tell at breaktime. That always helped the night go faster for me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Actions & Reactions

Had a nice lunch today with Dad and Anne at the Macaroni Grill in Northridge. I enjoyed showing them photos from my trip. (This same show is available to anyone who spots me with my laptop. I have about 1,000 photos so I won't be offended if you Call Uncle without seeing them all.)

Anne thinks I should keep my beard. Dad offered to lend me dog clippers like the ones he, apparently, uses to groom his beard. You can imagine my reaction.

Enjoyed talking with my friend and colleague, Rochelle Lewis, today. I learned that Rochelle Lewis has taken to counting the number of times Rochelle Lewis and others are mentioned in my blog. Rochelle Lewis pointed out that Rochelle Lewis has never been mentioned. I know better than to mess with Rochelle Lewis. I promised Rochelle Lewis I'd take action to make sure Rochelle Lewis was no longer egregiously overlooked.

Tonight I saw "The Chorus" which is a French film nominated for a Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar and Best Original Song Oscar. It tells the story of a French reform school with the discipline motto of "action - reaction." Unfortunately, the miscreants take lots of bad actions which leads to the evil headmaster's reactions (corporal punishment). But all is made better by a new teacher who brings out the "good boy" in all by teaching them to sing.

Speaking of miscreants, what kind of a pig-person actually answers a cellphone during a movie and has a conversation? Especially at the Beverly Center with its smaller-than-a-home-theater sized auditoriums! I finally acted with a loud "Shhh!" I only wish the headmaster has been there to apply an appropriate "reaction."

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

What a joy to pick and read some real newspapers at O'Hare airport yesterday. For the last six weeks I've been getting by on the International Herald Tribune (which the New York Times should be embarrassed to publish and for charging the equivalent of $3 for it in Brazil), the European edition of the Wall Street Journal and the European edition of USA Today.

I enjoyed learning about important news like all of the celebrities on Michael Jackson's witness list (Chicago Tribune), the challenges "big" travelers face (New York Times) and how to survive an airplane crash (Wall Street Journal) -- always fun to read while you're on an airplane.

All three of my flights home went off smoothly. I even had a chance to take a shower at the United Arrivals Suite at O'Hare. It's always comforting to be back in familiar surroundings. While some passengers may have been offended by the surly attitude of the United flight attendants on my long flight from Sao Paulo to Chicago (like forgetting to get me a Diet Pepsi and then telling me they didn't have time to get me one) I felt like I was back in America. It can't be easy to be an airline employee these days, and I actually didn't mind if they took it out on me a little. What's up with that?

Now I'm back home and I have a two page list of things to do. Mundane stuff like getting my hair cut and paying bills. Fortunately, I can put my bill payments in the mail myself rather than sending them to GeezBob to mail for me -- which he nicely did in January and earlier this month.

Lunch at Langer's yesterday was good. I had my usual Patty Melt. Our waitress, Evelyn, seemed pretty busy with the lunch crush. I'm sure we'll have more time to visit when it's slower there on Saturday. GeezBob, Rui and Steve all patiently listened to my stories. I'm afraid I did most of the talking. They had finished their lunch and I had barely touched mine -- not a good sign!

With two Sundays to go before the Academy Awards I'm anxious to see the few films nominated that I haven't already seen. I'm looking to catch "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" today. It's nominated for Art Direction, Costume, Makeup and Original Score

Monday, February 14, 2005

As Free as the Wind Blows

On Rui Coimbra's suggestion, I had an excellent lunch today at Confeitaria Colombo which opened in 1894. It's located in the old section of Rio, which was fun to walk around in. The restaurant's layout and decorations reminded me of something from San Francisco's Barbary Coast era.

They had a piano player (who you can barely make out at the far end of the photo) playing live on an upright piano. The first song he played when I walked in was "Born Free." This seemed like a particularly cruel choice as my trip ends today and I'll soon be back in my cage aka work. (I'm just kidding. I enjoy my job and like the people I work with. And I'm not just writing this because I expect them all to be reading this blog each day!)

I enjoyed some last time this morning at Ipanema Beach. Now I'm fried and crispy and ready to come home.

Shortly I'm off to the airport for the first of three flights on United Airlines (my first United flights on this trip.) Tonight I fly from Rio to Sao Paulo and Sao Paulo to Chicago. And then tomorrow morning from Chicago to LAX.

I already have plans to meet GeezBob, Rui and Steve at Langer's at 1 on Tuesday. I can imagine our waitress, Evelyn, going around the restaurant telling everyone I've just returned from traveling around the world.

I can only hope the Chantilly Cake will be fresh. I KNOW there'll be plenty of ice in the iced tea.

I tried visiting the Carmen Miranda Museum today -- but it's closed on Mondays. That's what I get for waiting until my last day in Rio to go. Let's hope there's more pizzaz on the inside than there is on the outside.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Damn Yankees!

OK, I've got it figured out. Last night/this morning's Samba School Parade featured the performances of the six best Samba Schools. The radio broadcast I heard early in the week was the announcement of the final scores and winners. So what I saw this morning was basically a victory lap for the best six.

The best two schools I saw last Sunday placed fifth and six. So I got to see four new Samba Schools -- ranked first through fourth.

You've probably already heard this, but "Beija-Flor" came in first with 399.4 points. They've won the championship three years in a row now. And "Unidos da Tijuca" came in second with the heartbreaking score of 399.3! The photo above is of Tijuca's opening float -- a real stunner. It featured a highly choreographed performance with more than 100 performers. It was so beautiful it made me cry -- especially knowing they had lost by the slimmest of margins.

Tijuca's performance was very moderne and macabre. I especially like the Zombie Samba. Beija-Flor seemed much more traditional, IMHO. I thought their performer portraying Jesus carrying his cross was just over the top. (But they got the points, so I guess they know what they're doing.)

My camera and I had a major disagreement last night. I wanted it to take snapshots. It wanted to take little movies. So my photos didn't turn out very well. But I have a collection of little moviettes on my laptop. But since I didn't know we were making movies most of them start with the parade and conclude with a shot of my leg after I've lowered the camera.

My camera may have tried to tell me what it was doing. But I shattered the little monitor on the back of the camera in a tragic fall on a slippery, steep hill in Cape Town (not cocktailed!) So until I get it fixed I don't always know what my camera is trying to tell me.

But the silver lining is I now have some great sound recordings of the Samba School Parade.

Will Smith was directly across from me in the "Hitch" box watching the parades. He got lots of attention and marchers would pass him their hats which he obliging wore until they passed by and he would hand them off to an aide behind him. The energy in his box was building until Jada Pinkett Smith fell out of the box. (Speaking of cocktailed.) She wasn't hurt, but I think she was embarrassed. They left within 5 minutes of the incident.

They presented the parades in the order they placed, starting with the sixth placed school and finishing with the Grand Champions, who went on at 4 a.m. This appealed to my sense of order, and I found it very easy to stay until the end.

It also helped having a seat in a box, rather than crowding into the bleachers like I did last Sunday. I was in the third set of boxes from the front. Each box had six seats and room to samba.

These boxes make the boxes at the Hollywood Bowl seem like matchboxes. (Not that I've spent that much time in the boxes at the Hollywood Bowl. The last time I was in one was during the opening seating for L.A. County Sheriff Sherman Block's funeral. But I WALK past them on the way to my seat at the Hollywood Bowl.)

I enjoyed brunch today at the Copacabana Palace Hotel. It was neat to see the hotel that started it all in Copacabana. And the food was great. But the people were CHEESY! Think big men, little swimsuits and cigars. It was like the Russian Mafia had come to town. I couldn't get back to chic Ipanema Beach fast enough.

Here's a wider shot of Unidos da Tijuca's opening float.

Here's a sideways view of Unidos da Tijuca's highly choreographed Draculas.

Unidos da Tijuca should have won for their Planet of the Apes King and Queen alone.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Back on Top

With a little over 48 hours left in Rio I finally got motivated to do some sightseeing outside of Ipanema and Copacabana. This shot is from Corcodova -- the giant statue of Jesus that looms over Rio. I also took the two cable car rides to the top of Sugarloaf mountain. Both locations offer amazing views of Rio -- which truly is a beautiful city. (The fact that it was too cloudy for the beach made it easier to leave Ipanema too.)

Regular readers of this blog know that last Sunday night I went to the Samba School Parade. Though I lasted to 2:30 a.m., I've been kicking myself for missing a couple of Samba Schools that went on after I left, including the performance by the reigning champion Samba School. Apparently they've dominated the contest for several years. I've heard them called the Yankees of Samba Schools -- which means I respect them and hate them at the same time.

On Wednesday afternoon I was walking around Ipanema and everything came to a halt. Everyone was huddled around their radios. I could hear what was being announced, but couldn't understand it. It wasn't a soccer game or a sporting event. (For a second it seemed like a coup or something like that.) Well it turns out they were announcing the results of the first round of the Samba School Parades. And a second school is within a hair of overtaking the long reigning champions. And everyone in Rio was hanging on the results like I couldn't believe.

Anway, all of this led to me buying a ticket to see the Samba School Championship tonight back at the Sambadromo. The tickets for tonight are a lot less expensive then for the first round. But the best six schools are performing and I have a seat in the third row. And I'm determined to make it to the end -- which apparently really is around 7 a.m.

Are you talking to me? Once you get to the base of Corcodova it's impossible to fit the entire giant statue into one frame -- at least with my camera.

Here's a great shot of Rio from the base of Corcodova. That's Sugarloaf on the right.

Flying over Rio. This shot is from the first of two cable car rides to the top of Sugarloaf.

This is the second of two cable car rides that it takes to get to the top of Sugarloaf.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Brazil Wins! Brazil Wins!

You can definitely see Iguacu Falls better from the Brazilian side. But there's more to do on the Argentinean side (you've got your train, you've got your boat ride...) So the obvious answer is to see the falls from both sides.

As you can see, this morning I was smart enough to remember my poncho. I actually bought this poncho when it started raining during the Samba School Parade -- and as soon as I bought it it stopped raining. I forgot I had it yesterday. But today I had to go from the falls to the airport in the same clothes -- and I really didn't want to drip on anyone on the airplane.

Now I'm back in Rio for a final weekend of fun.

This is my favorite photo of Iguacu Falls. This section of the falls is called "Devil's Throat."

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Don't Cry For Me

Several years ago Jackie Steinman suggested I visit Iguacu Falls. Today I finally took her up on her advice. I'm so glad I did. (Where am I to go next, Jackie?)

I spent this afternoon (and am spending tonight) on the Argentina side of the falls (the Iguacu River forms the border between Brazil and Argentina). There's been a long running debate over which side of the river offers the best views. My Brazilian driver is picking me up at 7:30 a.m. and I'm spending tomorrow morning on "his" side of the falls. So I'll be able to call the debate before returning to Rio.

The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance

The view of Iguacu Falls from my hotel, the Sheraton. Of course my room isn't on this side of the hotel. I'm on the "jungle" side. Nobody comes here to see the jungle.

Not exactly the Shanghai Bullet Train. This is the train you take to get to the catwalks to walk to the viewing platforms on the Argentina side of Iguacu Falls. It takes 10 minutes to go 2 miles. According to my high school algebra, that works out to a whopping 12 miles an hour.

I'm hoping this sign is not to scale.

Glad to see I'm not the only one obssessed with staying in touch. Get off the cellphone, Gramps.

Exclamation point indeed. What exactly am I to do with this information?

I got my cardio workout for the day.

Here's a good view of Iguacu Falls. Note the boat.

Of course I had to ride the boat. Note the life jackets. Not an empty gesture.

You know how on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland the boat goes "behind" a waterfall and everyone gasps because they get a little damp? Well the Argentina version is the boat goes into the waterfall and parks. This was my last photo before putting my camera into a waterproof bag. I got so drenched -- my clothes are still hanging in the bathroom drying. I laughed so hard I almost puked. The screams of total terror from the little kids on board certainly added to the adventure.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

And The Band Played On

When I left the Carnaval Ball this morning at Scala Nightclub at 5:15 a.m. the 20-piece Samba Band was still going strong. And so was much of the crowd.

This was the messiest, trashiest party I've been to in a long time. By that I mean empty cups everywhere, don't slip on the spilled drinks on the floor messy. Even the go go dancers had a hard time starting their act because their stands were covered in empty cups and debris. This was a real "skate home on your own sick" kind of an evening. I loved it.

Outside of the club, spectators formed a two block long phalanx (kind of a natural red carpet) that party goers had to walk to get in. The best costumes got a loud and appreciative response from the crowd. I quickly realized that, in my polo shirt and jeans, I had little to impress the masses. So I sort of slunk behind the crowd until I got to some real barriers and then I made my move toward the gangway. I just kept saying to myself, "Keep the train moving. Keep the train moving."

Then in front of the door to the club there was an enormous television platform that everyone going in had to cross. Lights, cameras, reporters everywhere. I joined in with a group of normally dressed people and we made our way across the platform without distracting from the interviews being given by those in fabulous costumes.

Inside the space was large -- it reminded me of the Hollywood Palladium. Two stories, rectangular with a stage along one side. Perfect for promenading in that night's get up.

Some of the costumes were very elaborate. Some basically didn't exist.

After four "gem tonicas" I guess I was as trashed as the nightclub. But it's a night I won't soon forget.

By the way, when I left at 5:15 there was still a crowd of spectators outside. But by then I didn't care what their reactions were.

Tomorrow I'm flying to Iguacu Falls -- an enormous waterfall at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Once you've seen Iguacu Falls, Niagara Falls looks like a drippy faucet." And she was from New York State!

And then it's back to Rio on Friday for the final weekend of my trip. I'll be staying at a different hotel so I don't know what internet access will be like over the next several days. But I'll be blogging as I can.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A Carnaval Crescendo

The change in Rio between when I got here on Thursday and now is intense. Carnaval reaches its peak tonight. People are out on the streets. Traffic comes to a halt as samba bands parade impromptu through town. The masks and face paint are coming out. And today the sunshine was absolutely dazzling. I have the sunburn to prove it.

Here are some photos I took this morning from the rooftop of my hotel. I was actually up early enough to have breakfast, which they serve in the rooftop restaurant.

In the photo above you can barely make out Corcovado -- the giant Jesus statue at the top of the mountain that looms over Rio. It's some trick of the camera -- because in person you can't help but see it.

Looking north. Copacabana Beach begins to the north after Ipanema Beach ends.

Looking south along the beach.

Looking west towards the lagoon.

Monday, February 07, 2005

I Love A Parade

Last night's Samba School Parade was quite an experience. (They're not schools like we use the word. The term refers to social clubs that have organized to put on a samba performance. Last night 7 competed for the title, tonight 7 more compete and then they have the Championship Contest next Saturday night when the best 6 go head to head.)

The Sambadromo holds about 20,000 spectators. Each Samba School has between 3,000 and 5,000 performers in their parade. There's about a 15 minute break between each parade while they clean the route and the next parade gets ready.

Each school has its own colors -- like a sports team. The crowd favorite last night was "Mangueira." This school passed out small flags to the crowd just before their parade. Excellent showmanship!

While each parade was very different, they also had certain conventions. Each parade starts with fireworks, for instance. The photos below show some of the other conventions. (I've mixed and matched photos from different parades so the colors aren't consistent like they were within each parade.)

Of course, leading up to the events I kept hearing warnings about pickpocketing. All I took was some cash, which I divided up evenly between three pockets. It turns out I was seated in the tourist section with a bunch of people who probably couldn't even pick their own pockets if they tried. I came home with cash in all three pockets. Where's the adventure in that? (Just kidding -- not tempting fate here.)

A King and Queen, of course.

The Nearly Naked Samba Lady always proceeded the Drum Corps.

I liked the sound as the drum corps passed by.

One of the most traditional sections in a samba presentation is the squad of ladies in large dresses that basically twirl down the route. This place of prestige is usually reserved for the older ladies in the school -- many of whom are in their 70s.

Lots of elaborate floats.

This float was the only one I saw with an obviously religious theme.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Paging Dr. Atkins

David Musso, my favorite Rio aficionado, urged me to eat at a "churrascaria" restaurant while I'm here in Rio. So on his advice I had lunch yesterday at Carretao, a few blocks from Ipanema beach.

The way it works is there's no menu -- instead waiters constantly bring to your table hunks of cooked meat on skewers and if something looks good to you they slice off a hunk for you.

I'm glad I went, it's definitely worth experiencing. But since I'm getting by on my rusty high school Spanish in Portuguese speaking Rio, it was a little intimidating not knowing exactly what they were slicing onto my plate. I'm now thinking "carne" is a bigger category than just beef.

My favorite was this Parmesan crusted beef -- I don't really know if that's what it was, but that's what I'm going with.

Since the restaurant is filled with waiters scurrying to get the latest offering to all of the tables, the restaurant is quite lively. But for me, ultimately, this constant meat parade from the kitchen was too much. However, I'm glad I went -- once.

Tonight is the all-night Samba School Parade where the different samba troupes compete to be named Number One. It's held in a motorcar racing style stadium -- the Sambodromo. The first Samba School goes on at 9 p.m.. and the last one goes on at 3:30 a.m. I guess I'd better take a nap.

But first, the sun has come out (finally) and I'm headed to the beach.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Must Rent Feathers

This is what they wear in Rio on a rainy Friday afternoon. The amazing thing is these two didn't even merit a second look from most Cariocas walking by.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Catching My Breath

Not much to report on my day yesterday in Frankfurt. My flight arrived around 6 a.m., I got a day room at the Sheraton at the airport, slept, worked on the computer and had lunch. I took the S-Bahn downtown for a little while and then my flight out was at 8:30 p.m.

I arrived in Rio early this morning and I'm looking forward to exploring it.

The photo above is from the Sheraton at the Frankfurt Airport. They have a boutique that sells oxygen. I decided to stick with the free air.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Tracking this gorgeous leopard for about 15 minutes was probably the highlight of my safari. But it's hard to pick just one.

We weren't alone in tracking the leopard. But our driver was better and our jeep wasn't as crowded and I think the leopard liked us better.




Morning coffee somewhere in the bush.


Leaving Elephant Plains Lodge on the way back to the airport my driver offered to take me by the school where her mother was the principal. The children greeted me using their English -- Hello, Vis-i-tor. This picture proves kids everywhere are hams.

Wart Hogs. Or as our driver put it in terms we could understand, "Pumba from the Lion King."


This is a Kudu. Yesterday I had lunch in Johannesburg and Kudu was the lunch special. I couldn't. Kudu?