You know how sometimes you meet the best people right as you're leaving someplace? When you move every two years, this unfortunately is a rather common occurrence, and of course it happened to me again when leaving DC. Elise Hanna, who I first heard about when I found her recap of the FIND workshop (for the non-photographers, that's the whole return to film movement going on) and then was lucky enough to meet her in person. She's warm, funny, and has just the right appetite for adventure that makes for a kindred spirit in the State Department life. And do I need to add that she's an amazing photographer? On film, digital, iphone (what is it btw that makes film photographers the best iphone photographers?) and I imagine on any medium of capturing the moment she picks up.
Follow along on her adventures - she's getting ready to pack up for India, on her blog, facebook, magical Pinterest world, twitter and instagram - but first, let's take a little trip to Brasilia, shall we? Imagine yourself in a new pair of havainas and an ice cold caipirinha in hand and enjoy the ride!
Diplomat or Diplo-Spouse (or other): Diplo-spouse, photographer, mama
Current Post: Brasilia, Brazil
Three words to describe your current post: Sun, sky, caipirinhas
Best thing about Brasilia: The weather, hands down. There is a saying in Brazil, “O sol nasceu pra todos,” “The sun rises each day for everyone,” young and old, rich and poor, flora and fauna. It colors the impossibly large Brasilia sky and the fruits of its faithful days are abundant in the trees and in the hearts of Brazilians. There are very few, if any, dreary days here. Even the “rainy season” which occurs from November to February is mostly sunny, unbelievably green and only sees passing tropical (albeit plentiful) rains. The dry season is just that, dry, but the sun still shines, every day and the temperatures are warm and mild.
You have visitors in town for the weekend. What does the weekend look like?
Friday night: Drinks on the lake, Lago Paranoá, to watch the sun set, then a late dinner at Porcão, a traditional “all-you-can-eat” Brazilian churrascaria. Served rodizio-style by rounding gauchos, slices of meat, chicken, sausage and chicken hearts are shaved from sizzling slabs onto your plate with huge knives until you beg for mercy. Brazilians are gracious with time, and you’ll be given enough to miraculously recover for bananas flambé and café to finish out the night.
Saturday: We wake to a chorus of parrots in the trees just outside (or to our three small children!) followed (quickly) by cafezinho, a small, strong and incredibly sweet Brazilian coffee, fresh mango from one of the four trees in our backyard, and hot pão de queijo. After café de manha, we’d make our way to the second-largest waterfall in Brazil, Salto do Itiquira.
Just a short hour and a half, scenic drive from Brasilia through the town of Formosa and beneath the flight paths of toucans, the hike to the falls is easy, on well-paved paths and bridges. The afternoon would be spent hiking, picnicking and swimming at the base of the falls.
Just off the main road, about twenty minutes from the falls on the drive home is Dom Fernando. A traditional, rural, farm-to-table restaurant, served in true Brazilian, buffet style in ceramic pots over a fire-warmed hearth, including feijoada, rice, fried plantains, salad, fruit, dolce de leite, ice cold beer (no really, its practically frozen), house made cachaça for sipping, and a sweet caramel and cinnamon-infused milk: Leite Queimado. The kids are invited to take complimentary horseback rides and play on the adjacent playground. Babies are brought baskets, softened with blankets, tableside for napping during a long lunch. Dinner upon our return home would be light after a large almoço, (“lunch”) accompanied of course by sunset and caipirinhas.
Sunday mornings are best spent at the Parque da Cidade, Brasilia’s huge city park often likened to New York City’s Central Park. Activities in the park range from jogging, fute volle, rollerblading, go karts, playgrounds and open air massage tents with massages for R$40, the equivalent of about $20US. After a good workout (or massage), we’d hit up one of the many vendors selling agua de coco fresh from the coconut, açai or a freshly-cut quarter of a watermelon served simply with a plastic knife and fork and watch the capoeira roda. The nearby market, Torre de TV, sells local crafts, art, furniture and leather goods. Sunday afternoons are typically spent firing up our own churrasco, poolside.
If you’re in Brasilia, you must try? If you are in Brasilia, you must try to tour some of Brasilia’s unique architecture, designed by Brazil’s prized Oscar Niemeyer.
What are your go-to sources for learning about the culture or things to do/experience while you’re at your post city? Our go-to sources are always the locals and a good sense of adventure. We’ve found some of best places here in Brasilia and anywhere we travel by observing the places that are most flourishing with locals.
Most difficult thing about living in Brasilia? The lack of access to shopping…or rather shopping as we know it in America. While there are a handful of beautiful and well stocked malls, and even a few European clothing boutiques and beauty chains, most of these items, including anything for children, are so highly priced that they are nearly untouchable (read: 8 to 9 times the price we pay in the US) and local chains are often provide poor quality for the price. I have discovered wonderful feiras, that happen on the weekends here, that and are filled with booths of independent designers and boutiques. These feiras have been my go-to in a pinch or for local wares.
Biggest adventure at post? Our biggest adventure at post was the pregnancy and birth of our third child. I learned things about the Brazilian culture, so wonderful and different from the experiences that I had Stateside, that I may not have taken away otherwise. To see how a culture dotes upon a woman with child and the birth of a new life is truly an expat experience you don’t get at every post. To work with a midwife in a country that is attempting to reclaim natural births and to be part of the movement to out-of hospital births, which yield C-section rates in the 90th percentile was truly an empowering experience.
What’s the best advice someone ever gave you about the diplomatic life? “There isn’t anywhere that you can’t survive for two years.” We have been very lucky to have not only survived, but to have thrived in Brasilia.
What is your daily uniform? Day: Short shorts, a blouse or tank, pretty sandals or Havianas. Night: skinny jeans or brightly-patterned silk pants, heels and a dainty top. When in Brazil…
You’re having guests over to dinner on a Saturday night, what’s on the menu? Fish Tacos. Mexican food is hard, if not impossible to come by in Brasilia so we like to treat our guests to something we love and miss, but something that could only be enhanced by the abundant fruits and local fish of the area. We stumbled upon a favorite white, flaky fish, Robalo that works beautifully. We’d top them with fresh mango salsa, avocado cream sauce, and serve them with fresh-lime margaritas with limes harvested from our backyard.
When did you realize you were far from home? The first time I set foot in our backyard. The things that I typically took for granted, the sounds of birds, bugs, squirrels and dirt, were so curiously different. Squirrels were replaced by tiny monkeys, lady-bugs by amazing beetles and brown earth, by bright red.
What is the most important thing about recreating your home at post? Surrounding ourselves with the things that we love and no matter where that is, the space becomes home. This includes our favorite photos and artwork collected throughout our travels, our bed, mattress and bedding and most loved kitchen appliances and utensils. A good nights sleep and a good meal should never be underestimated!
Three things you can’t live without at a post?
- Cameras and plenty of film
- Good high-speed Internet
- Red wine
- Açai (ok this is better in the freezer)
- Agua de coco, the Brazilian prescription for most all that ails you
Three things always in your handbag?
- A change purse of Reis for parking attendants
- Keihls lip balm, good for a variety of needs, especially during the dry season
- Mentos (more popular in Brazil than even in the US)
One thing you thought you couldn’t live without, but had to? Starbucks. Not even one store in the city of Brasilia. Although, for a couple hundred Reis and an hour and a half, I may or may not have flown to Rio once or twice for a Frappuccino.
Dream post for next assignment? Why? We’ve already been posted to Chennai, India, a place I’ve always dreamed of visiting, but if I’m being honest Paris.
One thing you wished someone had told you before arriving? 1. You simply must come with at least a base of Portuguese. Although it is changing now and there are more people learning to speak English because of the upcoming Olympic Games and World Cup, when we arrived two years ago, virtually no one spoke English.
2. You will never want to leave.
Parting thoughts? When do we get to come back again?