She enters the train in Flamengo station, all bundled up in her black high-collar jacket. She is in her late twenties. With dark skinny jeans and black heels, the only source of color in her somber ensemble is her sparkling chandelier earrings.  She is going for the simple chic look, as always, trying to blend in. She could almost successfully pass for a local (carioca) if it weren’t for her short, wavy blond hair. In Rio, young women come out of the factory with long, brown, and straight(ened) locks, in this order of frequency so she is clearly not from here.

The sadness in her eyes is reflecting the gloomy, rainy, early winter evening. She is having one of those bad days when one just wants to crawl under the covers and sleep until happy times are back. Unfortunately, this is not an option; her friends are visiting from overseas and they have to be entertained.

As she finds her spot, pressing her back against the train wall, she notices Him. Early 40’s. Carrying a black HP backpack (“just like the one they gave us at work..” she is thinking). Handsome face, strong features, dark wavy hair. He is tall and fit. “Must be a runner,” she notes to herself. They just manage to exchange a quick glance before something strange happens.

Three young men in their mid twenties enter the train carrying musical instruments and occupy the space between our two strangers. They are an interesting bunch: Guitar Boy (dreadlocks, hands covered in kabbalah tattoos), Tambourine Boy (blond hair under a hipster hat, eyeglasses taped with a band-aid), and Saxophone Boy (black hair, looks like a football fan in his Vasco athletic shirt).

She is expecting a typical cacophony (she was so used to blocking those out during her New York subway days) but she is in for a surprise: the three musicians start playing light samba music, slowly rocking their bodies in harmony. She is captivated and when she looks around the whole wagon is rocking along. It is as if the air received an injection of sudden energy or everyone just simultaneously decided to take their happy pills. She catches herself smiling and rocking from side to side, just like everybody else and then she notices him again, doing the same thing, just on the other side of the music circle.

She feels the urge to cut across and introduce herself but then, the train arrives to its destination in Ipanema. He gets off and she follows, focusing on the black backpack walking in front of her. He stops at the escalator. Then, filled with that earlier energy, she passes him, walking up the stairs. He surveys her slim back, and those skinny legs in the skinny jeans, getting away from him. He speeds up and passes her again. He exits the station, boards the connecting bus most foreigners take to Leblon, and gets into the window seat. “Will she follow again?” He wonders.

The Arrival of the New York Russian Jews

The past week I was hosting a whole new different kind of tourists. My over-traveled Russian- Jewish friend and her companion. I knew they were a different fish to fry when my friend took out a Michelin tourist guidebook to Rio, and started asking me about places I have never even heard of before and looking on Google Maps the best way to reach them. Hosting these folks was great and stressful at the same time. Great, because they came prepared knowing what they want to see, and many of the places were new and interesting to me. Stressful, because you have to keep up with high standards and sending them to the main tourist attractions doesn’t just cut it, plus they require in-depth explanation of background/history/context, so I had to put on an expert act at all times. Overall, we had some really good times.

The highlight of the whole experience, was a hike to the highest point in Tijuca Forest, called Pico da Tijuca, arriving to which turned out an adventure within itself as it was located deep inside this really huge national park. After huffing and puffing (given my poor state of health, stamina, and overall laziness) for over an hour, sporadically being pushed like a wooden block up the hill, I arrived in a semi-asmatic state to the top of the mountain. There, I could easily pretend I am inside an airplane as the panoramic view of the city was really from a bird’s eye. This place has to be one of those top 500 places to see before you die.

Getting back was an adventure within itself since the taxi didn’t want to come pick us up and we had to find a random guy to drive us back to civilization for a modest R$20. We were very lucky because otherwise we would have had to walk something like additional 5km to get out.

One of the questions I get asked most by friends and foes is “How are the Brazilian men?”. I normally don’t really have a good answer for this as I have not really been extremely impressed thus far. Last night I realized what I was doing wrong. I went to Club 00 inside the planetarium in Gavea and found myself, for a change, surrounded by scores of handsome, well dressed, well groomed and good dancer men. Of course, it was a gay party. This is what happened to all the interesting men in Rio. They came out. Oh well, in any case it was good fun. Sunday nights go to 00, for some nice cocktails and good dancing!


Recent discoveries that are recipe for happy days

Recently, I have been following the brilliant schedule of reviewing every day, at 8pm, what had made me happy during the day. So far, so good. Conclusion so far, it’s people and places. Duh.

The past weekend was pretty cool with some Russian-Jewish New Yorker friends (where does one found those?!) visiting me in Rio. Aside from my standard tour of Grobby’s Rio favorites, we discovered some great new places:

1) Escola do Pão – the best brunch place in Rio (according to a knowledgeable source, which is not me). Located in an old rustic house in the lovely Jardim Botanico neighborhood, just by the Lagoa.  We had something like a 5 course brunch, with delicacies such as papaya puree with granola, mini gourmet sandwiches, artisan breads and homemade jam. My favorite thing was the heart-shaped waffles, something I’ve never seen before. I was  way too full to try them, but they looked great! Also, one of the two chief chefs (her), was walking around the tables and forcing apricot jam down people’s thoughts (literally, she wasn’t willing to accept No for an answer).

2) Santa Teresa – probably my favorite neighborhood in Rio, which I always wanted to explore more of, but didn’t really get a chance to, mostly because of security concerns of wandering on my own. Despite all safety warnings, I decided to venture out into the Santa Teresa unknown and find the Parque das Ruinas, which is located on a random hidden street,  impossible to find without knowing where you’re going. I was a bit worried about the idea, but decided to take the chance (and not mentioned anything to my brave New Yorkers – I figured worst case, we will have to break out our street moves). To get to this place, we hiked a random street, that was a showcase of local entrepreneurship, with small businesses with home made signes and smiling owners, offering us the best caiprinhas or cakes in town. We also passed several houses whose back yards were turned into an exhibition of art made of locally collected garbage. As I said, very random. Parque das Ruinas turned out to be very random and cool as well. Located on top of a mountain, it is a showcase of a glass mansion, mounted on top of a very old building, creating an fusion of old and new, with breathtaking views of the entire city.  I never knew this place exited. Thank you Michelin guidebook. When we came back, there were two reasons to register a happy moment: 1) seeing a beautiful site 2) not getting robbed/killed/poisoned. Great Success!

3) The road to heaven. Ok, not really. Due to my friend’s sense of adventure, we decided to continue to explore the city, despite the very rainy and chilly day, and so we headed to my lovely, Parque Lage. After a bit of wandering around, it was determined that Parque Lage completely fooled me. It was not the little park I thought it ought to be, but rather a very large property, containing random trails, lakes and even waterfalls. We also discovered a 2.5km trail that takes you up the hill to the Christ statue. Due to some health & safety restrictions (i.e. not wanting to fall on my head while slipping on a rock), we decided to postpone the hike but now I have a major to do on my list.

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4) Rogê – How could I arrange a proper Rio welcome without some proper Samba music? We went to the Carioca de Gema bar, where we watched a live concert of the very charming Rogê. I did my samba routine, along with the mixed crowd of butt-shaking local girls and hopping foreigners.

Apples from the Desert

Living the high-paced stressful modern day capitalism, we often forget those “small” things in life that are the actual source of happiness and stability – old friendships, human kindness, family ties.
This is one of the reasons why I like going back to my country, where real people with real problems and real loves remind me who I really am, where I come from, and what really matters.

After 5 years of promises, I decided to make the two hour trip (long distance in Israel terms) to visit my longtime (12+ years) school friend, Blondy, in the desert city, Be’er Sheva. My previous encounters with Be’er Sheva were limited to 30 minutes stops on the way to Eilat, Israel’s most southern point and main tourist destination. I was therefore curious to get to know the place better and see how my friends’ life looks like.

start point
On the way
My destination: Be’er Sheva

Blondy and hubby made me feel at home, and we caught up on life and work. Blondy and hubby are a typical Israeli young couple. Recent college graduates. She works as an administrative manager at a nursing home and he is a management trainee at one of the main national banks. Both are doing great. It was interesting to discuss Israeli working culture and see how work problems and management of people are still universal. However, the best thing by far about The Blondies was their cat, Khatulish, a modern cat, who follows all the global trends. He even plays games through his personal pet app on the tablet. I believe that Khatulish is more technologically advanced than me in that. Blondy was commenting about the difficulty that some of her older colleagues are having in learning how to use the PC. I think she should consider using Khatulish as a technical trainer.

Khatulish analysis the situation
Khatulish charges in…
Oh no.. the fish are not real. Must try again!

Given that most people think the entire country is one big desert, one most clarify that the main difference between Be’er Sheva and any other middle class city in Israel is that it has some bedwin presence and if you drive a few kilometers away, you pass all the apartment buildings and shopping malls, and arrived to vast unused sandy plains, dotted with trees and some military bases.

Beer Sheva is also a university town, housing the Ben Gurion University. It is named after Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion who was a big patriot with crazy white hair and a believer in bringing bloom to the wilderness and to his death lived in a cabin in the Negev desert (currently a museum at Kibuttz Sde Boker). As a university town, BS has a vibrance and friendliness about it. There are many bars and restaurants with cool atmosphere, good prices and friendly service. I went to of those bars, called HaSifriya ( The Library), where the waiters all wore nerdy glasses and suspenders and looked liked New York hipsters from Williamsburg. We ate burgers (Blondy and hubby), and typical israeli food (me) to the sounds of Lady Gaga concert playing on the plasma TV, while chatting with our friendly hipster bartender. Yet another example of global trends with local flavor. I like seeing so many of those around the world.

Hipster Bartender
Hummus, Falafel and Kava. What else does one need in life?

The coolest thing I discovered about Beer Sheva was that it used to be a Turkish stop point during the Ottoman rule. Someone got the right mind just a few years ago and they are now restoring the old town, and creating an interesting leisure area of galleries, cafes and nice restaurants, all done in the beautiful ancient style full of arcs and internal courtyards with quaint gardens. I can’t believe someone has not thought about this earlier but also cannot wait to see the area in a few years. In the meantime, the houses already restored look gorgeous. Wish I had money to invest… I love seeing growth opportunities that also bring beauty to this world.

Cool commercial for instant coffee. It says: “He doesn’t have a pretentious foreign name. He is simply delicious”

On my back on the train, aside from the normal update of local politics, I got an interesting advice on real estate from a phone conversation I overheard.

“Trust me, Tel Aviv is the best place for real estate investment. You buy a 1 bedroom apartment for 1.1 million shekels (~$300k) and can rent it out for 5k shekels a month. You will make money every month. Israel is the only place where people still care about buying housing. The rest of the world simply rents. Worst case, you can live there afterwards as it will be in great location”‘.

Sounds like the guy spent too much time in Manhattan, or Rio, or Moscow, or London, etc.,…