Part 3: Musings on Rio

While it is not cultivated nature, I’m going to talk about the Escadaria Selaron in Lapa. It is a steep staircase of 250 steps covered in brightly colored tiles. It’s truly astonishing. It is the work of the late Chilean artist Jorge Selaron who started it in 1990. Originally, he had no budget and found what materials he could. Eventually, it transformed into the bright bold staircase that it is today. It has gained some fame: a Fanta commercial was filmed there.

Staircase Elisa Shoenberger 2013

Elisa Shoenberger 2013

The staircase is a riot of color. The base color is bright red but there are bursts of green, yellow, and blue. At the very top, there is a wonderful Brazilian flag made from tiles. (But it’s a hike up there!). There are tiles from all over the world: Afghani tiles with beautiful Arabic script, a tile with  famous phase “Don’t Mess with Texas,” Argentine soccer clubs and much more. Each flight of stairs has a pattern of tiles. The artist also has made several tiles that are self-portraits of himself as a black pregnant woman with a moustache.

Brazilian flag detail Elisa Shoenberger 2013

Brazilian flag detail
Elisa Shoenberger 2013

The first time I went to the staircase was on a trip with students. It was a bit of a wild goose chase. One of my friends found a book of pictures in his hotel room and saw the staircase in it. He wanted to go; I wanted to adventure. So we made off from the center with my poor Portuguese to find it. We wandered to and fro, wandering behind the aqueduct and pyramid-shaped Cathedral. Eventually, we got the right directions and came across this spectacular staircase. I think I saw the drawings of Selaron in front of his house. He apparently lived there and continued to make art.

Sadly, Jorge Selaron was found dead on the stairs in 2012. Thank you Jorge Selaron for this amazing piece you put together.

Part 2: Wondrous Rio

Jardim Botanico is another wonderful place of cultivated nature in Rio de Janeiro. Located near Ipanema, it’s a huge botanical garden with an estimated 8000+ different species. It is a beautiful place to spend part of a day and kids can run around in it.

Dom João VI, the eventual king to Brazilian and Portuguese throne, built  the Jardim Botanico in 1808 shortly after the Portuguese court moved to Brazil due to Napoleon’s wars in Europe. It was originally built to cultivate spices from the West Indies, like nutmeg. Eventually Dom Pedro I, the king’s son opened to the public in the 1820s.

When you walk in, you find yourself in an avenue of the tallest palm trees. It’s simply stunning to see these trees reach towards the sky in such an orderly fashion.  There are many different areas of the park. There is an avenue of redwood trees, where Brazil got its name, in the Amazon section. There is a beautiful Japanese garden. On my first visit, I saw this white colored heron in the Japanese garden that was so still, I actually thought it might have been a statue. It was hunting for fish and insects in the pool and was very careful about its movements.

Palm Tree Avenue Elisa Shoenberger 2013

Palm Tree Avenue
Elisa Shoenberger 2013

There are several plants houses. My favorite is the orchid house, which was astonishing. I’ve never seen so many varieties of orchids before. Some were as large as my hand! Also, it’s fun to go to some grocery stores since they also sell orchids (though clearly not as many as in the Botanical garden). There is also a carnivorous plant house with all the different plants and tricky ways they capture prey.

There are several waterways. Near the middle of the park, there is a small pond with large lily pads on it. There is the Monkey River, but I’ve never seen monkeys on it (though they do live in the park). There is even a little waterfall that is neat.

Jardim Botanico Pond Elisa Shoenberger 2013

Jardim Botanico Pond
Elisa Shoenberger 2013

You get a nice view of Corcovado if you find the right opening in the trees.

There is a café, a shop and a children’s playground in the park as well.

I highly recommend the Jardim Botanico. It’s well worth a visit.

Part 1: Wondrous Rio

Yesterday, I saw a commercial for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and I got very excited. I love World Cup Soccer; it’s my favorite sporting event. It’s the only time I’ll go out of my way to watch games. Last World Cup, I actually went to a local bar and watch the first half of games. Then I’d stream the commentary back at my desk. It was glorious.

This World Cup is extra-special because it is taking place in Brazil. I’m very excited. I love Brazil and can’t wait to go back. So I’m going to talk a bit more about my time in Brazil. So far I’m only really familiar with Rio de Janeiro but that just means I just have to go back and explore.

I’ve talked about the beaches so I’ll talk a little bit more of Rio’s cultivated nature. First, I’m going to talk about Pão de Azucar. I really do love going to Pão de Azucar. It’s two hills or morros connected by two cable cars. I know that it is the number one thing that people do on their visit but I don’t care. I want to go every time we are in Rio. It may be related to the monkeys that live on the morro. Yes, there are tiny monkeys that come right up to you to beg for food. There are also amazing birds in brilliant greens and reds.

Monkey Elisa Shoenberger 2013

Elisa Shoenberger 2013

And the view is spectacular. You get a good view of entire city, the several famous beaches, and the bay itself. The water has so many hues of blue in it. There is also a little airport with a tiny landing strip where you can watch the planes land on. And you are practically staring at Corcovado, the famous Jesus statue, up on a larger hill.

Pão de Azucar Elisa Shoenberger 2013

Pão de Azucar
Elisa Shoenberger 2013

A few years ago, I went during the rainy season. It was remarkable how the fog set in. The second cable car to the higher morro had wires disappear into the fog. It was wonderfully spooky. Sadly, we couldn’t see anything as a result. But while we waiting under a canopy at a café at the top, a group of monkeys came out of the mist and eyed us all. The smallest one managed to get a cough drop and it was adorable (and horrifying) to watch its tiny little pink tongue eat the fluorescent pink cough drop.

Oh memories.

This past year, I went with my mom. The weather was much better. We had lunch on a café on the lower morro and watched a monkey scamper around the café. It was pretty sweet.

That’s all for now!

Review: The Girls in the Band

Last night, I went to see The Girls in the Band, a documentary about female jazz musicians at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It was absolutely inspiring. It focused largely of the women in the golden age of jazz in the 1930s and 1940s but it talked about the present day.

Until I read this amazing review in the Chicago Tribune, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I didn’t know the name of a single female horn player or a drummer. Not a one.  And I love jazz and play the saxophone. I know that there were some pianists and definitely singers. And that’s a damn shame. And here’s just a few incredible woman mentioned in the documentary: Rox Cron, saxophonist; Melba Liston, trombonist; Marian McPartland, pianist; Clora Bryant, trumpeter; Vi Redd, saxophonist; and Mary Lou Williams, pianist and composer. And many more.
This documentary was a wonderful mix of the lives of various musicians working in all girl bands or mixed gender bands. The film contained lots of amazing footage of these bands and the individual musicians rocking out in their solos. They detailed their highlights, like when Roz Cron was invited to join the interracial band International Sweethearts of Rhythm or when the Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival got Melba Liston to start playing trombone again. They also mentioned the importance of Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s second wife, who played a pivotal part in his career. She was a great pianist and composer in her own right, and even died in the middle of a concert in memory of her late ex-husband.
The women detailed their low points, like when the International Sweethearts of Rhythm went on tour in the Jim Crow South. The band was particularly dangerous since it had two white women in it. Interracial anything was considered taboo and dangerous. They talked about the double standard of appearance. Men could be old, graying, rotund and/or wear glasses. Women, on the other hand, were expected to look like movie stars. Promoters would ask for girls to be removed if they weren’t pretty enough, disregarding their talent. Sometimes they’d be forced to wear ridiculous outfits like pink frilly dresses.
My only comment is that the documentary did a lot to discuss race and gender, I wish it had spent some time talking about sexuality. It briefly mentioned how women were not allowed to wear saddle shoes since it was considered a sign of homosexuality. But that’s as much as it got. It would have been nice to have talked about gender norms and sexuality of the musicians.
So if you like women’s history, jazz history, or just great music, check out this documentary. Help make future generations of musicians know the names of the foremothers!

Chicago Maritime Festival 2014

This Saturday, I attended the 12th annual Chicago Maritime Festival at the Chicago History Museum. It was my second time at the festival and I enjoyed it. It’s not quite as old and established as the University of Chicago Folk Festival, but that’s been around for 54 years. The festival is a combination of sea shanty music and workshops.

I started my day with “Seaworthy Shakespeare” workshop put on by Chicago based “Shakespeare All-Stars.” They were charming. They did little scenes three of the four plays with shipwrecks: The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, and Twelfth Night. The group was charming. With few costumes and no scenery, they did an amazing job of evoking all the different characters from these plays. They began and ended their workshop with the play scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream, which they acknowledge has nothing to do with the sea.  But it was great so it doesn’t’ matter! I got to play the moon for a brief moment.

I spent the rest of the day in the various music workshops. The workshops are with the various performers on different topics. This year the topics included “Loss and Lament,” “Reflection,” and my personal favorite “Drinking Songs.” Most musicians would play in the evening concert. Some performers would give a little back-story about the song they were about to sing.  There was a delightful workshop on squeezable instruments, like the concertina and accordion, which was super. One gentleman talked about how learning the harmonica was great for learning the concertina.

The most vivacious of the workshops was the drinking songs one. There were songs about alcohol, songs that you’d sing if you drank too much, and songs about what happens if you drink too much. My two favorite groups led the session: the  San Francisco based Barbary Ghosts and the Columbus based HardTackers Shanty Crew. The Barbary Ghosts sang about a nasty fellow in San Francisco who owned a bar that served “cheap liquor.” He’d get men drunk, and drug them and then send them through the trapdoor in the floor to out of to sea. They also sang about boozing and rye whiskey. The HardTackers sang about the Empire and Queen; it’s what you’d sing if you were really far along… They also sang a rousing rendition of “All for Me Grog” which has to be my favorite Irish drinking song.

In an earlier session on “Loss and Lament”, the Barbary Ghosts sang about a famous captain who could not sail anymore. The song is about his desire to go to the docks to see his old ship Alice once again. The chorus is “Rosie get my Sunday shoes, Gertie get my walkin’ cane. We’ll take another walk to see old Alice sail again.” It’s so lovely. Apparently, the old captain is related to one of the musicians through his brother-in-law.

And then my favorite shanty group did a half hour concert. They are the Bounding Main, an a cappella, humorous group that wears garb. What’s not to love? They sang about the shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and about the storage containers that are used today. As much as I love the old songs, it’s nice to hear some new songs about the current situation. They told amazing jokes including: “Two parrots were sitting on a perch. One turned to the other and said, ‘Do you smell something fishy?'” Teehee.

Then the daytime part of the festival was finished off with a workshop of bawdy shanty songs. It was really charming that all these adults would get together and sing fairly raunchy songs together. Some of the workshop musicians played various naughty songs (including one about condoms), others sang songs with swear words (sailors swear! Who knew!). Audience members were invited to come up and sing as well. It was good dirty fun.

In the evening, there was a concert of many of the musicians from the festival. Next year, I’ll probably go to either the day events or just the concert since it’s the same musicians at both. There weren’t many repeat songs and when a song was repeated in the evening, it was done by another musician or group. The HardTackers sang Admiral Nelson’s favorite song, which was a real hit in our party.

It was a lovely event and I look forward to next year.

Part 2: Walking in London

London is one of my favorite cities to walk in. There is so many quirky and historical things to see that you’ll miss if you take cars or the Underground. I feel so invigorated when I make my mile walks.

My love of London walks really started when I studied there. For a variety of reasons, I ended up having to walk from the West End to Kensington on a daily basis. Initially, I thought it was only a mile or two but after I got home, I discovered its more like 4-5 miles. No matter, it was worth it.

In that walk in particular, I got to know the Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in the summer. Since I usually travel there in the winter, I never really spent much time in the parks. In the summer, they are bursting with life. The lawns are almost fluorescent green with bright bold flowers. There are wonderful waterways, whether a little stream or a giant pond, where ducks and geese congregate. And there’s the occasionally goose.  I also discovered that there were special traffic signals for horseback riding.

Other parts of Central London are well worth walking. One fun activity is noting the names of all the pubs. I’m not sure if there is a tradition of creating ridiculous names for pubs in British History or if it just accidentally came that way, but the names of some pubs are truly spectacular. My personal favorite is the Hung, Drawn & Quartered, which is located near the Tower. We went there on a recent trip; it was nice but very much a bar for people in the City, i.e. Investment bankers. Another bar with a great name is the Bung Hole on High Holbein Street.

The fact remains that its hard to stumble into an area that doesn’t have some history. For instance, near Temple (or the Inns of Court), you can see the Temple Bar gate. It is where London and the City of London meet. Every year, there is a ceremony where the Queen  stops there before entering the city. The Lord Mayor offers a scepter as a gesture of loyalty. The gate itself is very impressive with a dragon at the top. Nearby is the flagship for Twinning’s, a very tiny but long store for all of your Twinning tea needs. In addition to the Inner and Middle Court buildings, there is one building of the Outer Temple. It’s not its own inn; I think the Outer Temple is the name of a building of some barristers’ chambers. Nearby, there is also a statue of Ben Johnson, famous for his English dictionary. And there are the legal courts in a wonderfully over the top Victorian building.

Outside of London is wonderful too though I am less familiar. In September, we went to Hampstead Heath, which is a wonderful park with great climbing trees. We could see the skyline of London from afar. Hampstead Heath also has secret watering holes (well, not so secret to the locals). We stumbled upon a pond for women only. I snuck in and it looked charming. There is a male only pond and then a mixed sex one. It wasn’t a particularly cold or warm day but there were a few women swimming in the water.

We wandered through the Heath and eventually came to Highgate Cemetery. I may have mentioned this cemetery before but I’ll briefly discuss it. Apparently, the family that owned it in the 1970s abandoned it so nature took over. Trees are growing out of graves and vines have encircled tombstones. Gravestones are cracked. It’s beautiful in its decay. We discovered that Douglas Adams is buried there in a rather nondescript grave. There was a bowl of pens and a towel. Karl Marx is also buried there with a gigantic sculpture of his head. It’s a little terrifying.

I can’t wait to walk around London once again.

Part 1: Walking

With this wonderfully warm weather, I’ve actually taken leisurely walks outside. I love walking around the city. There is so much to see! And there are so many things that you can’t see in any other way, whether it’s the hidden park, or decorative panel on a building. I love to push my walks, taking 3-4 mile walks on particularly good days. I’m sure that’s nothing for some people but I hate running so it’s kinda awesome for me.

I have trips that I remember purely for the walks. The most recent was my summer trip to Brazil for a wedding. It sounds like the start of a joke: Seven Italians and three Americans go to Rio de Janeiro for a wedding. An Italian family friend was getting married to a Brazilian woman. It was a lovely wedding and I was so happy to be able to be there.

Anyway, during the week that we were there, I walked on the Copacabana beach every day. It was winter there but it was a delightful 60s and 70s the entire trip. I’m I walked on the black and white mosaic sidewalks that have elaborate patterns. The sand was like Chicago’s, very pale and fine. The water would crash into the beach in its multitude of blues, grays, and greens.

I’d pass the various kiosks. There would be the large, more established cafes, and then the little ones that were almost shacks. All would have coconuts for sale (varying prices). On my last day, I saw employees at one kiosk taking coconuts from a tree and it made me so happy. It spawned a lot of questions: How much of their stock comes from the trees? Are the trees specific to the stand or can anyone take from them?

One day, I finally allowed myself to sit and have  a coconut. The man cut it open with a machete and put a straw in it. I sat next to the beach, sipping my coconut water, watching the waves come in. I had a spectacular view of Pão de Azucar, which two dark-colored hills that pop up from the water. But then it was time to continue my walk.

Rio de Janeiro Coconut Elisa Shoenberger 2013

Rio de Janeiro Coconut
Elisa Shoenberger 2013

There was also the proliferation of the informal economy. There were people, often skewed to men, selling all sorts of touristic things: towels, maps of Brazil, key chains, purses made of zippers, and much more. There was a man with an umbrella that had 100s of bikinis hanging from it. It was a Victorian person’s dream/nightmare.  There were people selling food, like popsicles. I had a churro from one stand.  It was filled with dulce de leche and it was incredible.

The people watching was amazing. There was one woman who was roller-skating while carrying her surfboard.  There was a young boy on a skateboard also carrying his surfboard. There would be wandering musicians playing at the various kiosks. There is such vibrancy to the beach there. It’s a shame that Chicago doesn’t quite have the same thing.

I can’t wait to go back and have my strolls on the beach.