Just a thought....
Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

Monday, 24 April 2006

Books, the smell of history and chocolate

As a child, we had many little traditions. It was tradition to eat pasta on a Thursday night. Sundays, we ate at a hotel or restaurant. This kind of thing makes up the framework of my memories. If I had to choose a favourite tradition, it was the Friday night tradition.

Jim, my grandfather, not my real grandfather, mind... he was my step grandfather, but to me, he was... a hero. A true-blue Scotsman and one of the most generous people I've ever known. He taught me to 'drive'. For work, he had a combi and would allow me to stand between his feet and steer. Can you imagine anyone getting away with that today??? He taught me the joys of burning patterns in polystyrene with a soldering iron (till I discovered that my gran's nail varnish remover did the same trick). Oh, he taught me many things, but of all the treasures he gave me, it was Friday nights and the joy of reading.

Jim would finish work earlier than usual every Friday. He'd load me into the car and we'd head down to the Port Elizabeth public library. To me, as a child, the building was awe-inspiring. The main entrance was dominated by an enormous statue of Queen Victoria. Slightly off to one side was the door to the children's library. Next to that was the main entrance. Back then, the building to me was simply beautiful without me knowing why it was beautiful. Today, I can admire the warm tones of its structure and its elegant Elizabethan design. The library was built in 1835 and was first used as a courthouse. It was only used as a library in 1902. Today, it is home to more than 45 000 books.

My grandad would walk me to the front door of the children's library and my own personal paradise. Once in there, I would lose myself in tales of adventure, colour and fantasy. I learned to love books and love reading in that library. The children's library of my memory was bright and colourful and staffed with ladies who had, I'm sure, as great a fascination with the stories as I had, or so I imagined anyway. At 6pm, the children's library would close and I'd step out into reality for a second before being transported another world entirely.

I cannot even begin to describe the main library. I'm finding words fail me. Now you must remember, I haven't been there in many years, so if my memory isn't accurate, forgive me and tell me what it's really like. The main library room goes up and up and up for what seems like forever (talking of up and up and up from a 7 year old's perspective). Every time I stepped in there, I would tip my head back and look around at the rows upon rows of books, probably vowing I'd read them all one day. In moments of sheer adventure, I would climb the staircases to the narrow passages that lined the walls of books. The handrails were beautifully carved, the wood smooth and warm to my hands. I smelt the books. I still remember the smell of old paper, leather, slightly dusty... never musty. My sense of adventure might have taken me up those stairs, but I didn't dream of touching any of those books. My awe was almost of a religious nature. They were too much for me.

Back downstairs, I'd weave in and out of the passageways created by yet more bookshelves and on to the reading room. Here, the world changed again. I tiptoed up to where Jim was reading, my footsteps sounding loud in the silence. The hush was so loud, you could feel it, like a soft blanket around you. Old men would briefly look up from their newspapers, which were stacked on darkwood tents. I'd snuggle up to Jim while he finished his paper and gaze around the wood panels. It was a serious room.

I remember leaving the library and going up a side road to a parking area. My grandad would then take out a slab of chocolate, which he and I would share on the way home, completing the experience for me. Not a week went by without books and chocolate. I'm still a bookworm... any wonder chocolate comes wrapped in the same experience package. You know, from the time we left home to when we returned, we hardly said anything. I don't think words were really necessary.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Rich man... or poor man?

In São Paulo, I use public transport... train, metro, bus, cab, etc. They've pretty much wiped out begging and hawking in the metro system. Its been a while since I've taken the train, but last I checked, it still had its share of hawkers and beggars. The cabs only have the ones at the traffic lights to worry about, but the buses.... !

Today, we first had the paçoca seller. I bought some, as we both like paçoca. Imagine peanut butter in a sweet form.... dryer, but with the same taste and it crumbles in your mouth.
Yumm... when I'm really desperate for peanut butter, which, here, is extremely expensive, I crumble paçoca onto my heavily buttered bread... a dieter's nightmare! :)

Our next 'visitor' was a blind guy. Now I have every sympathy for the blind. I give unstintingly and buy their products, but on the buses?? No. Jorge tells a story of how, when he was a lad (yes, there was a time... ), him and two friends answered a blind beggar (this was back in South Africa) in Portuguese and German. The beggar swore and said to his companion, "Die mense verstaan nie 'n f** wat ons sê nie!" = "These people can't understand a f*** word we're saying". A little while later, they saw the same guy walking with his cane tucked under his arm and dark glasses on his head.

Which reminds me of one of my earlier beggar experiences here. I was on the bus (where else?) when a very old man struggled on board. Everyone got up to help him as he went by. We were surprised he was on his feet at all. The crutch he was using was little use with the movement of the bus. He told his story and virtually had us reduced to tears. I sympathised... old age here is bad, especially for those who don't have children or who's family don't care. They have little to help them and often end up on the streets. Purses were emptied for this old man. He was assisted on his journey through the bus. People were blessing him as he went by. At last, he was helped off the bus....

This old man had hardly hit ground when he tucked his crutch under his arm, straightened up and literally danced away! Cries of (forgive the language) "Filha da puta" and various others I wasn't familiar with went up, then we all cracked up laughing. You had to admire his spirit. That man was well paid for his acting ability that day. I laugh now. My donation went towards a show loaded with talent. Why he doesn't get spotted by a talent scout, I don't know.

But that is why I don't give to beggars here. They're all so damn talented!

Sunday, 16 April 2006


Let me start by saying that if ever you want to really spoil yourself or you're needing to feel pampered or if you want to give the lady (or man) in your life the treat of a lifetime, book into L'Occitane. Thank you, Anne, for this very thoughtful gift. You knew how I would feel about it, didn't you?

The smiling and ever-helpful staff greeted me at the entrance. I filled in the forms, where I was asked my aroma preference and whether I liked firm or gentle massage, and was ushered upstairs. The room was softly candle-lit and delicately scented, hinting at the herbal oils they use. The couch was one I would dearly love to have taken home. I will post a photo. Unfortunately, my trusty camera couldn't accompany me through this experience, but I managed to capture this room. I sank into the chair and would have been content if that was the only experience of the day. I wasn't there long. Carini returned to take me to the dressing room where I changed into a bikini they supplied (good thing too, as I wouldn't own one in this lifetime) and robe. I locked my own clothes away and was ushered into bath paradise.

Here, my body was exfoliated with a heavenly smelling lotion containing walnut. My eyes kept straying to the bath, a free-standing, antique-looking bath, filled to the brim with steaming bubbles and a few lavender sprigs resting on top. I had asked for lavender as my aroma for the day. My whole body sighed as I sank into those bubbles. I lay there thinking of everything and nothing for 20 minutes. Heaven topped by a cup of peach tea.

Back out the bath, I was given a mud pack. Some greenish looking gloop... freaky! She then wrapped me in plastic and covered me with layers of thick fluffy towels. The experience was strange, but not unpleasant. The shower that followed more than made up for it. Lovely soaps, gels, shampoo and conditioner left me feeling fresh. The shower had an 8" head, which gushed water at just the right temperature, massaging me from head to toe.

I changed bikini's and was introduced to Nigrini, charming and professional, with hands that worked magic. He was the masseur. From my scalp down to my toes, every muscle was kneaded into total relaxation. Joints were stretched and limbs were flexed. I was then offered another cup of tea. I think I need to get some of that tea. It was by far the best peach tea I've tasted to date.

Ready for lunch, I change and went downstairs. I had a glass of merlot with duck and later, chocolate mousse, all of which had French names I can't, for the life of me, remember.

Back upstairs, I was greeted by Alessandra for my facial. As she ushered me in, she went on about how I must be feeling so relaxed and how I'm welcome to sleep any time. In the next 20 minutes or so, I found out about her, her children, where she lived and her job. She then wrapped my face up like a mummy with gauze, plastered some goo over it and left me to 'sleep'. A while later, she tiptoed back into the room to check on me, then left again. Returning later, she gave me a Portuguese version of "Rise and shine!" and was shocked that I never fell asleep. "But you said nothing when I came in earlier", she said. That is a bit like the dentist asking you if it hurts when your mouth is immobilised by anesthetic. My mouth couldn't have moved if it wanted to!

My last visit was with Dora, a tiny lady with long, strong and highly flexible fingers. She was my reflexologist. She did the reflexology differently to the way I know it. We concentrate on the individual pressure points, then the overall massage, but, here, the overall massage 'hides' or disguises the pressure on the points. I had my 4th cup of peach tea with her and she snuck in some of those yummy cheese straws. She also presented me with my gift from L'Occitane.... a beautiful tin with 12 guest soaps.

So my day at the spa came to an end. I fetched my stuff from the locker to find 10 missed calls on the cell and Jorge wanting to know 'where the heck are you??'. He'd apparently been waiting for me since 4pm and it was then 5pm. We knew it was 6 hours at the spa, but we hadn't accounted for the lunch hour, which was part of the whole deal. I was a little frustrated at having to rush out instead of being relaxed. Talk about an instant crash to earth. Jorge was frustrated because we still had to go home, fetch a bag, go to dinner and make it to the motel. Ah well.... these things happen...

Brazilian Motel

For a long time now, I've wanted to see one of the local motels. To me, a motel has always been a place, often seedy, that you overnight in on a long journey, simply a convenience. This was definitely different.

The place we went to was called Opium. Its midrange. They range from extremely expensive to rather cheap. Our room had dining area, bed (naturally lol), shower in the main bathroom, shower in the sauna room, jacuzzi, deck chairs and an automatic, retractable sun roof. Each 'room' is complete with private garage and entrance, bedroom area and jacuzzi area. The dining area, bed and main bathroom is downstairs, just above the private garage. Um... they have mirrors on the ceiling too. I didn't like that one little bit... looking at my face in the vanity mirror is bad enough. There was a stereo system and tv downstairs and upstairs in the jacuzzi area and a frigobar (bar fridge) stocked with all kinds of drinks. Upstairs is the sauna room and another shower next to the jacuzzi. The whole of the top floor is covered by the automatic sun roof. We opened it and had sat in the jacuzzi gazing at the moon and clouds... no stars to see.

Motels here are an industry in themselves. They're super-snazzy and designed around the more carnal pleasures. Everything is spotlessly clean and working smoothly. Here, its a common way of celebrating birthdays, anniversaries or any other occasion between couples. You hire the room for a 3 hour, 6 hour or 12 hour period. If you go to the motel guide (like a yellow pages for motels), you'll get an idea of the kind of industry. Everything is super-discrete. We ordered coffee and orange juice that morning. It was put into a hatch in the wall from a closed off passage (no contact with room service at all). We then opened the hatch when the bell was rung and took our goodies out. There is no normal reception. Its drive through check-in and out. The whole place is surrounded by high walls - you see nothing of the motel from the outside.... only the gate.
Opium photos

Definitely goes down as one of my more 'interesting' experiences in Brazil. Did you know they even have a motel for dogs??! You book your pooch and poochess in, so they can discover love all over again in a doggy heaven. Weird! Read about it here and here.

L'Occitane and luxury

*original blog written on 13 April 2006*

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. 20 Years is a very long time in the grand scheme of things. It was a happy/sad day for me. This was the first anniversary in 16 years that I didn't have Tatiana with me. Our wedding anniversary has always been a family event. What's more, I was out all day with the cell phone off and Tatiana had tried to call me. I did manage to catch up with her later though, thank goodness.

First, we went to hire the car, then Jorge took me for my appointment at L'Occitane. Today, I used the gift Anne gave me for my birthday. Its been such a crazy time since then that this is truly the first opportunity. Anne, as always, chose the gift well. What a day! I walked into L'Occitane to the smells of so many herbs and oils. The staff was wonderful! Hm... you know what.. I think I'm going to write a separate blog just for the L'Occitane experience and another for the experiences which followed or this will get way too long. Jorge is already saying my blogs are way too long.

After L'Occitane, we went to dinner at Bovinas Churrascaria (sp). Again, excellent service and the food was good. The salads and hot dishes were self-service and the well-trained waiters come around periodically with different portions of meat. For a very reasonable price, you can eat as much meat as you like.

Then we went off to the Motel. For those who know, its a typical Brazilian motel, but more on that in its own blog. haha!

All in all, it was a lovely day. 2 Years to 20 years... I think we proved them wrong, right Jorge?