30 March 2011

Week 21: A Fancy Flower

I have seen some pretty amazing flowers in Brazil, but this one in a tree outside the President's residence was super fancy. There was also some fruit on the tree, but I have not been able to find anyone that really knows what type of tree makes this incredible flower. Of course, I have really tried in several weeks, either.

Week 21: Presidential Palace

The Brazilian President's residence was our last stop for the day on New Year's Eve. We were all pretty tired by this point, so we didn't get out to look very closely. This was also the day before the inauguration of the new president, so everything was very neat and clean in preparation for the transition.

Week 21: Igreja Rainha do Paz (Queen of Peace Church)

The Igreja Rainha do Paz is the chapel for the military base just to the north of this site. The chapel was designed by Niemeyer, and constructed on the site of the platform built for the visit of Pope John Paul II to Brasilia in 1991. It was dedicated in 1994, and is in the shape of a military tent barrack. It's also one of the newest structures on the Plano Piloto.

Pearl shaped lamps fall from the sloping ceiling. I found the jagged windows very interesting. To me, they look like tears in fabric, and represent the lament one feels from conflicts like war. It's a beautiful and very simply designed space.

Since we were here just after Christmas, the holiday nativity displays were still up. There is also a smaller chapel and a large multi-purpose meeting room on the lower level.

Week 21: Praca do Cruzeiro

Just across the way from the JK Memorial is the Praca (PRAH-sah) do Cruzeiro, or Plaza of the Cross. The cross marks the spot that was initially surveyed as the highest point in the city of Brasilia. This is a great spot for flying kites, and based on the debris, apparently a good spot to hang out, drink liquor, burn candles and recite peace poetry.

This park also marks the place where the first building constructed in Brasilia stood. It was the construction site operations center. All that is left today are the cement footings. In photos from the construction period, this site also used to be filled with scrubby trees and brush common to this part of the cerrado (say-HAH-do), or the Brazilian savannah.

Week 21: Juscelina Kubitschek's Tomb and Memorial

On New Year's Eve, we decided to go to the tomb and memorial for President Juscelina Kubitschek, also known as JK. He was the president of Brazil who decided to fulfill the professor of the Portuguese Saint Dom Bosco, and establish the capitol city of Brazil in the interior of Brazil. Last year, the city celebrated it's 50th anniversary when the seat of government officially moved here from Rio de Janeiro. Building Brasilia was quite and amazing feat of ingenuity, engineering, and willpower. The core of the city was designed and built in about 6 years. The design of the city also reflects the ideals of the planners in their views of futurism and the ideal society.

This particular monument was also designed by the master architect for Brasilia, Oscar Neimeyer, a native of Rio de Janeiro known for his grand, minimalist designs. Some of the things he and the chief engineer management to pull off with reinforced concrete are pretty amazing.

This building rises out of the earth like a polished stone, and is surrounded by a tiered pools of water. Guests walk down a ramp and through a tunnel lined with large scale images of JK depicting various events in his life.  In glass cases along the path are various artifacts from his life, like his medical kit (he was a doctor).

On the main floor, his library has been reconstructed, and it has sculptures of Rome and Romulus nursing at the teats of a she-wolf, and walls lined with books. Like most other buildings here, the indoors and outdoors are linked, and not much more than a pane of glass separates the two. The kids liked playing hide and seek in this garden just past one of these panes of glass near the library.

Upstairs, there are displays with more artifacts form his career as president, including articles of clothing that he and his wife wore. I really like the inauguration display. Her dresses were pretty fabulous.

These cases contained various medals and plaques given to JK during his presidency by leaders of other nations and organizations. The entire hall was dimly light and sparse. This is also the level that holds JK's coffin.

The coffin is located in a circular room and "floats" on a cushion of light in the center of the room. It is made of a highly polished black granite. Above the coffin is a beautiful stain glass window made of purple, orange, red and yellow panes of glass, and gives the room a red-orange glow.

When one leaves the building on the parking lot side of the building, the Chevrolet Opala that JK was riding in when he died is on display. He died of injuries caused by an automobile accident in 1976, not too many years after returning to Brazil from exile.

Week 34: Butterfly

The butterfly came out of the chrysalis today. Like many of the butterflies here, it has brown coloring and spots. The highlight coloring is orange, with flecks on the body, streaks on the wings, and a patch on the abdomen. It appears to only have four legs, at least only four larger legs it walks on. It's still stuck in the bathroom, and the orange streaks kind of match the paint in there.

28 March 2011

Week 21: New Year's Eve in Brasilia

During the Christmas holidays, the buildings in Brasília were covered with lights. This photo is of the CAIXA bank building, one of the federal banks. My kids called this the Tower of Power, and remarked that the light display could have been some sort of UFO landing beacon.


On New Year's Eve, we went to a friend's home that has a great view of the lake and Brasília. At midnight, all the clubs and several of the homes that are located along the lakeshore began to set off fireworks. For the next twenty to thirty minutes, the lake was ringed with fire. It was one of the most amazing fireworks displays I had ever seen. 

Week 21: Blind Snake

One evening, Rebecca screamed and yelled stating that there was a snake in the house. This got my attention, and I was very interested in seeing this snake, since it would be the first free-range Brazilian snake that I have seen. It turned out that the snake was a six-inch earthworm-like creature with a very small head, and long thin body. The head and tail were nearly indistinguishable, and the eyes were very tiny. It was a blind snake, one of the smallest species of snakes that lives in the ground eating small insects. It was very wriggly, but I managed to pick it up and return it to the yard outside. About a week later, we found another blind snake in the laundry room.

27 March 2011

Week 33: Big Caterpillars and Chrysalids

Rebecca found this chrysalis on the back of the bathroom door new the front entry of the house the other day. A day earlier, she had commented on there being "one of those big caterpillars from the bush out front" in the bathroom. Apparently, the caterpillar crawled away from the bush, across the driveway, and under the front door and found a place safe from birds in order to metamorphose. I am looking forward to seeing what type of butterfly this was changes into.

This might have been the type of large, fuzzy caterpillar that entered the house. One day we noticed a few of these smashed on the driveway, and the next day, a branch of the palm tree near the front door fell, revealing a stash of about 50 of these four-inch long critters. My kids played with them for hours trying to get them off the driveway and back up the tree to safety from the wheels of the cars.

The caterpillar may have also been one of this kind. These bugs have pretty much decimated the foliage on this bush, but I haven't wanted to kill them because I want to know what they become. This photo is actually from a first batch of caterpillars appeared and disappeared about a month ago.

In January, the kids pointed out this mass of caterpillars moving through the yard. We have seen many, many different kinds of larvae here. These photos are just of the largest samples of the bugs.

A green colored chrysalis on the frame of the back door. I am not certain what type of caterpillar formed this one.

Week 20: Hanging Santas

One of our holiday traditions is to drive around during the weeks before Christmas and take a look at Christmas displays in people's yards. In Brasilia, no one really has a front yard since all the homes are essentially fortresses walled in by concrete, electrical wires and very tall hedges. We did find one street near our church building that had a festive spirit, and the entire street had lights, angels, trees, and other things much like displays in the U.S. They call their street "Rua de Amizade" or "Friendship Street."

The funniest thing about the street were the hanging Santas. We saw them in many locations around town, but the concentration and variety was greatest here on this street. We decided that we needed to get one as well, and so I purchased one from one of the men who sell things at intersections.

Week 32: A Meet and Greet with President Obama

Last weekend, President Obama and his family came to Brazil to meet with Brazil's President Dilma Rouseff and to speak at several business and cultural events. This is my favorite photo from the Meet and Greet with President Obama. I was trying to get a shot of my wife or one of my kids shaking hands with the President, but I couldn't see through the mass of people, so I raised the camera and clicked the button. 

I had originally been assigned as part of the baggage crew to handle the luggage of the First Family, but the plans changed for them to spend two nights in Rio de Janeiro, so I wasn't needed. I did get put in with another team to help with the CEO Luncheon at Itamaraty, the main building for the Ministry of Foreign Relations, but was told the night before the visit that I had not been cleared to go to Itamaraty since I was still on the airport list. One of things I learned from this visit was that plans are changing constantly.

Because I didn't have an assignment, I did get to go to the Meet and Greet that was held employees and their families from the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia. It was held at the same convention center as the final business meeting of the day. As we were waiting, we got news that the President was running behind schedule, and there was some worry that he may not have time to see us.

I was standing near the back of the crowd while my wife and the kids were near the front. Fortunately, the President did manage to stop in, though he was only able to stay long enough to offer some words of thanks and encouragement, shake several hands, sign a few books, and then he was rushed off to his next meeting.

We had been waiting for a little over three hours when the President arrived. I was amazed at how well-behaved the children were while waiting because there really was not that much to do other than hang out and talk to your friends and play video games on iPods and Nintendo DS. Due to security concerns, back packs full of the things one would normally bring to entertain children were not permitted. A few of the younger managed a brief game of chase in the lobby, and at least one parent brought markers and paper and set up a drawing area on the floor under the stairs.

Following Mr. Obama's remarks, he passed across the front the audience and reached out to shake as many hands as possible before leaving. My wife managed to get a good handshake. She deserved it. She waited for three hours in the same spot and made some new acquaintances from the embassy while doing so as well.  The kids were also placed in a good spot to see to President, so a couple of them also were able to shake his hand.

One of my favorite moments from the event was when President Obama saw a sign made by one of the kids, and he told her to pass the sign forward so that he could sign it.

Week 31: Super Hot Dogs at the Kids' Carnaval

In the parking lot near the Kids' Carnaval, a row of hot dog vendors had set up their Chinese made vans. Each of these vans had a complete, portable kitchen and could turn any small area to a street cafe. And they all were selling the same thing, hot dogs (AH-chee DOH-gees), or "salsichas" (sawl-SEE-shahs). These little vans look a lot like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo. The kitchenettes have stainless steel steamers and warming trays that are heated by gas from portable tanks. I had seen set-ups like this around town on other occasions, but this was the first time I had seen about 8 vans all in the same spot.

My older sons had heard rumors of this super hot dogs from their friends at school, so we decided to try them. The basic construction of the super hot dog is put inside of a bun a salsicha and bury that hot dog in mashed potatoes, corn, and fried crispy potatoes, and then season with ketchup.

The buns and hot dogs are very different here in Brasilia than what is found in the U.S. One notable difference is that the franks are a paprika color of red-orange, which also turns the water orange when their cooked. And no matter what brand, the hot dogs are all made from chicken and all look and taste the same. The buns are not precut and are about twice as fluffy as buns sold in the U.S. Also, the buns got soggy from the potatoes and corn. Overall, I and my kids are not impressed with Brazilian hot dogs, but served with mashed potatoes, corn and crunchy potatoes is pretty tasty for street food that only costs R$2.50.

Week 31: Carnaval in Brasilia

We spent the Carnaval week in Brasilia. My older boys actually went on a camping trip with other youth from our church in the area (the Brasilia Stake of the LDS church). The day we picked them up from camp was the official fat Tuesday, and there were several events going on around town. We have hoped to catch a parade, but we just didn't get home from picking up the boys from camp in time to see one. So we decided to take the kids to the Parque de Cidade, the big central park of Brasilia, to the Kids' Carnaval party.

We got their in time to catch about the last hour or so of the event, and even though many people were leaving as we were arriving, there were still hundreds of kids and their families dancing to the music of a live band and playing on the inflatable bounce toys and trampolines. The band was really fun, and I tried to get my kids to dance, but there were just interested in the big toys.

There was confetti, streamers and cans of spray foam all over the ground. Jacob found this can and was hoping that there would be just a little bit left to spray. There were vendors of light-up toys, cans of foam, and other trinkets and candy and popcorn surrounding the edges of the area fenced off by the city for the kids party. No alcohol and no smoking was allowed in the Kids' Carnaval area, and I really appreciated it. People were having fun in a familiy-friendly setting.

I took this photo just after one of the face painting booths had packed up and removed their table. What's amazing to me is that there really are no garbage cans placed out by the city for people to deposit their trash. Early the next morning after large events, a small army of workers in orange and blue jumpsuits will descend on the area and sweep everything up.

Many of the kids were wearing costumes. Carnaval is the time to be someone or something different. Most of the girls were wearing some version of a Disney princess dress. I think this boy and his brother had the most unique costumes I saw that evening.

Week 31: A Perfect Flower

I first encountered this flower last December at the Bank of Brasil Cultural Center. We went to see and exhibit of prints by Escher, who is one of my favorite artists. While playing on some of the outdoor sculptures  that doubled as playground equipment, my youngest daughter pointed out some absolutely beautiful flowers. I didn't have my camera with me, so I didn't get a picture that day, but then I began noticing these trees in other parts of town. I am particularly impressed by the spiral symmetry, the five overlapping petals, and the airbrushed look. These flowers have the appearance of something someone might make out of sugar and put on a cake. At a garden and landscaping shop, these were called a type of "mangeira".

06 March 2011

Week 19: Caja manga and abacaxí

One of our favorite grocery stores here is Pão de Açucar (sugar bread or loaf), a national chain that is named for a famous mountain near Rio de Janeiro. They have a great selection of fruits and vegetables, and we like to purchase a new one every couple of weeks or so just to try it out.

This fruit is a "caja manga" (KAH-jah MAHN-gah), it was a not easy to eat. It was mildly sweet, had a very tough rind and a seed with several tough tendrils that extended into the fruit. I'm not sure if these are used in cooking, but eating it directly was difficult.

I bought this pineapple because it had two heads. The next week we found a four-headed one at Sam's Club. 

Brazilian pineapple, called abacaxí (ah-bah-kah-SHEE), is quite a bit different than the pineapples from sold in the U.S. that are grown in Hawaii and Costa Rica. Abacaxí is sweeter, less acidic and therefore less sour, has a lighter color, and the core is softer and more edible. These are some of our favorite fruits to eat here, and we get at least one or two per week. My favorite place to buy them is from the man across the street from one of the grocery stores who sells them from his wheelbarrow. His are generally less expensive. We pay about R$3 to R$5 each (between US$2 and US$3.50) in Brasília, though the price can be lower if they're on sale.

One of the things that has surprised about living in Brasília is that produce costs more than we had expected. I guess that's what we get for living in the interior.