Before I get into my activities of the weekend I have to relate one of those stories of being somewhere unfamiliar.

Friday afternoon I was feeling the need for some caffeine and didn’t want yet another overly sugary espresso from the office machine (it tastes so bad without the sugar that I have given in and generally just get the sugared version) so I headed down to the cafeteria on the ground floor of the building.  On the way out I mentioned to some folks that I needed a Diet Coke, to realize as I said it, what I really meant was that I needed a Coca-Zero.  I know there is supposed to be a difference between them, and I think I can actually tell what it is when I have been drinking one and switch to the other, but in this case it really was the same in my mind, only in a can of a different color.

The oddities didn’t end there.  As I was paying for it, I decided to get rid of some of the coins that I had amassed, it is easy to do that here as there are 1 R$ coins and 2 R$ and 5 R$ bills.  So I as digging to the bottom of my purse for the 0.50 R$ incoins I needed in addition to the 2 R$ bill I had already grabbed and I was having a hard time finding the last quarter.  While I could have grabbed some smaller change to add to the total I wasn’t really in the mood to look at each coin and figure out it’s value, as I don’t have the feel for them yet.  Finally I came across something that said 25 on it, yet it wasn’t at all like the other quarter I had in hand.  The first was gold and round in shape, this one was silver and I think hexagonal.  I figured it was something that was still hanging around from another currency and was going to keep looking when the woman at the till nodded to indicate that I had found what I needed.  Later, during the weekend, I discovered the same phenomena with the R$ 0.10 piece(s). Very bizarre if you ask me.

That said, I must note that the workers in the cafeteria downstairs have been very patient with me and my less than basic Portuguese.  They always show me the receipt so that I know the amount and they are very patient as I try to use non-verbal means of communication to indicate what I want.

On Saturday morning the theme continued with what has become a somewhat standard weekend breakfast for me.  I take some sausage, salami type not breakfast type since it keeps better, and fry it kielbasa style, then scramble some eggs with some herbs de provence (they are worth the money) and maybe add a little grated cheese for a substitute for bacon and eggs.  If I want toast on the side I use what is similar to a tartine in France, pre-toasted bread that keeps much better than the fresh stuff which has either moldy or become hard as a rock a few days after buying it.  I might be able to keep some regular bread in the fridge, though given it’s small size it is probably worth keeping the space for other things.

After breakfast I spent some time online figuring how what I was going to do to explore the city, and found that it didn’t seem to be too far to the harbor. So armed with directions from Google Maps I set out for what was to be just shy of an hour walk figuring that I needed some exercise and that if it looked like I was heading somewhere that I didn’t want to be alone I could always grab a cab.

From the first turn the directions were wrong, yet I found my way to one of the streets I was supposed to take using a bit of intuition.  That intuition failed shortly thereafter as I never found the next one.  So I ended up walking down a street that had seemed interesting a couple of nights back when I was in a cab on the way home from work.  And I was heading away from the water which I didn’t know at the time yet had a funny feeling. It didn’t turn out to be all bad as I stumbled upon a shopping area complete with a little gadget shop that had, among other things, clocks for sale and I found one that I liked.  It seems that here, just as in India, time is not all that important and clocks are not standard in hotels or service apartments.

After wandering a bit further I decided to go ahead and grab a cab and actually make it to the water.  After being dropped at a museum that I had selected as a reasonable landmark to get to I wandered a bit there and then set out to my actual destination.  At first I wasn’t sure I was allowed to enter the dock area as there was a gate completely with security guards.  I figured I would give it a try and between some hand gestures and believe it or not a bit of French not only= figured out it that it was allowed, I walked right in.

It was a nice break from the bustling cacophonous metropolis of the city streets and despite it being a working harbor being near the water was quire peaceful.  The buildings themselves provided some great photos.

And there was what I thing was a white heron, not sure if it was a great white or not as I don’t know if that species is indigenous to Brazil.

Upon returning home I ran into two co-workers and discovered that they, as well as I, were interested in heading to one of the local shopping malls to find a few apartment supplies.  They were headed to the grocery store first and I wanted to eat lunch so we agreed that they would call me when there were ready to grab a cab for the mall.  It was a successful trip, I was able to buy a little camp stool that I can use for a foot rest, a cutting board, and finally a wash cloth. It really wasn’t actually a wash cloth, more of a very small finger towel that will serve the purpose since yet another difference here is that wash cloths just don’t seem to be common and this isn’t the only country I have noticed that in, I saw the same thing in the UK.

I finally broke down and attempted to use a Brazilian can opener and to my surprise was quite successful.  I had many trepidations before making this attempt recalling trying to use something similar at some point in the past and only winding up with a mangled can.  Well, not to worry, I got the can open and didn’t wind up with a cramped hand.

The reason for taking this brave step forward was the want to finally cook the white beans I had purchased a while back.  They had been sitting on my shelf staring at me, calling my name, only to be turned back by thoughts to the dreaded can opener.  Finally I could wait no longer and voila I had one of my favorite French side dishes prepared in next to no time.  The smell was heavenly and reminded my of the south of France.  It is amazing how some of the simplest food can take you back to previous adventures and I find myself wondering what food from here will be the thing that I crave when I leave.  Will it be the BBQ, quite likely, or maybe those chicken hearts (I guess that counts as BBQ too).  Maybe it will be the black beans cooked with just the right amount of meat mixed in to give them that savory flavor.

Given that the beans were a success, and that I had made a variation on the rabbit and sausage recipe I had first tested in France (using chicken as well as some other substitutions) I decided to actually crack the cover of my French cookbook and look for a new challenge, a new recipe that I might be able to approximate with the ingredients that I can find at the local supermarket.

I selected Entrecôte au Chèvre knowing that at least I could find some good beef for it.  It looked simple enough, four ingredients, and I also know that I most likely wouldn’t find the savory and figured the stand by of herbes de provence would make a find substitute.  I had no idea if I could find goat cheese, and the answer was no, so I found some other cheese that looked like it will melt and figured I would give it a go.  I also bought cubed beef instead of making the sauce to pour over a filet since I knew I would want to cook enough to keep leftovers and eat it throughout the week.  Most intriquing however was the fact that the recipe called for white wine, this was just enough of an unusual combination that I had to give it  a try, and it would let me use up some white that I bought that could only be used for cooking.  Yes, I know, only cook with a wine you are willing to drink, well, I did drink some of it and I just couldn’t let it go to waste.

The original plan was to do the shopping on Sunday and cook the dish that night.  Of course this all changed when the grocery store was shut that day in celebration of Mother’s Day (same day, different expectations).  So I went shopping on Monday night and saved the cooking for Tuesday.

So now for the drumroll for the results.  I have actually been cooking this as I have been writing and it turned out pretty decent.  I do wonder how it would taste with all of the proper ingredients and will add that to my list of things to do once I am back in Chicago. I can’t say the same for the bottle of red that I opened to go with it, once again I seem to have found something way to fruity for my tastes. Unlike the white I cooked with it is drinkable, I just won’t be buying it again.

I find it interesting how themes can materialize in life.  On my last trip to India I finally read The Da Vinci Code which was a bit after the masses yet before the movie was released and now I am reading The Lost Symbol. I don’t care how much people say that if you read one Dan Brown novel you have read them all, I am enjoying the second one as much as the first and it looks like once again I beat the movie.  Oh, and this time I am reading it electronically on what is my latest best purchase for traveling, previously it was my Bose headphones which still do rock when you need to tune out the background noise on a plane.

On Sunday, some of us decided to go to the botanical gardens that we pass every day on our way to work.  Silly us, we decided to head off the beaten path right away and wound up in some mucky areas.

Eventually we doubled back to find the more common paths along with a pond covered with little floating plants that from a distance it looked like it could be a bog.

Since it only took us about an hour to tour the gardens we decided to head towards the water and see if the timings worked out right for one of the boat tours before going back home.  I was concerned that this was going to be exactly where I was the day before and that the tour wouldn’t leave until 3.  Turns out it was near there yet different and there was a tour at 2 which gave us time to grab some snacks and look around the art center next to the harbor that used to be a power station.

The tour itself was quite nice affording us views of the entire city skyline which give a sense to just how big Porto Alegre is and made me realize that I had relocated from one city on the water to another.  Same.  Only different.

Reflecting back to both Bangalore and Aix it is interesting that both of those cities felt more accessible, perhaps it is all because of the language and maybe there is something bigger going on that I have yet to discover.

The trip went through a narrow channel where visions of the houseboat tour in India came back to me the end of which opened up onto some very exclusive homes with manicured lawns and private boat launches, think North Shore of Chicago.

We then circled around the point and sailed past a more local feeling area with lots of colorful fishing and utilitarian boats as well as a marina, think a little more like Gary Indiana with a lot more color.

Best of all, it was an absolutely gorgeous day to be on the water.  Given the rain that was coming that we have had for the first two days this week, it was even more special. And yes, that is a bridge in the distance, this theme continues to make itself known as summer (or winter here) often includes a Mac race for me where a bridge looms in the distance towards the end of days on the water.

The weekend ended with a laundry battle to remind me once again of the differences.  The machines here are very slow, when they work at all so I wound up sitting in the laundry room waiting. reading, waiting for the machine to stop ,mid-cycle so that I could push some random buttons in hopes that it would start again and even higher hopes that it would move to the next phase of the cycle.  While this was going on I was talking with a woman, from São Paulo who is moving here, and she told me that the reason they have old style top loading washers here, not that that is the only reason they are slow, is because when the front loaders where introduced nobody liked them since they couldn’t see the soap getting all sudsy and thus they didn’t think that their clothes were getting clean.

A few more intriguing differences that I noted during the first part of the week are that salads here are served as very large leafs of lettuce that have to be cut in order to consume them (compare that to in France where it is an insult to the hostess to cut your salad), unless I can figure out how to change the language on my new local phone I will have to figure out how to turn predictive texting off as it doesn’t recognize many of the English words that I want to use, and the paper napkins here seem to have a layer of plastic embedded and as such are far from absorbent (I seem to recall them being somewhat similar in India).

Please don’t take my calling out these things as complaining, it is more just a set of observations of how while we live in a very small world it is also a very large one where people have various things that work a certain way and when they travel extensively they are going to be exposed to many other ways of doing and seeing things.  Some of these may be great new ideas for them and others may make them uncomfortable, yet all will, in the end, if the traveler is open to anything at all, make that person a better global citizen and much more understanding of visitors coming to their homeland.