27 February 2010

Literary Travel Companions

This is what I've been reading during the trip (in reverse order), and what I thought about it.

18. East of Eden (John Steinbeck). Another great American classic, read with gread pleasure in the trains that carried us through Texas and then up north through the snow.

17. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee). For our trip through the US, I thought I should read an American classic, which it is. A great story from the American South.

16. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami). As I'm writing this, I'm not even halfway through the book, but it's fantastic. Could read it for hours at a time (long train trip coming up tomorrow!). Well written, mysterious, makes me think about things... Great.

15. Riding the Iron Rooster (Paul Theroux). Another travel account, this time about Theroux' train travels in China, in the 1980s. I had been waiting to read this since we were in China, but couldn't find the book until we were in Thailand. Now there were some points where I disagreed with his views (not about China but about Poland), but it was an interesting and entertaining book to read. A lot of things have changed in China since then, but some things haven't changed that much (the spitting, for instance...).

14. Surviving the Killing Fields (Haing S. Ngor). This is an autobiography of a survivor of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. It made me finally understand what happened exactly in Cambodia and why, and how peoples minds work in this country. Before going to Cambodia and doing a bit of reading, I knew about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, that they had killed people, that the country was still poor and terribly corrupt, but nothing more. Everybody in the west knows about Vietnam, but Cambodian history is still not very much talked about. This book is a must-read if you want to have an insight about what happened there, and why, and what went wrong.

13. The End of Poverty (Jeffrey Sachs). This book opened a whole new world for me, the one about development economics. It's extremely well written and easy to understand. It was interesting to read while travelling through still developing countries. It got me very interested in development and how it all works, and angry at the rich countries (especially big USA) for not doing more and just talking all the time. I will for sure do some further reading as soon as I can.

12. Catfish and Mandala (Andrew X Pham). Well written travel book about a Vietnamese-American going back to Vietnam to find his roots. Great to read while in Vietnam.

11. The Old Patagonian Express (Paul Theroux). A favourite, of course. Theroux keeps my spirits up and makes me feel normal if I don't find everything beautiful and great.

10. One Man's Bible (Gao Xingjian). Good book to read while in China, it gives an interesting picture of the Cultural Revolution. It's not an easy read and sometimes a bit "strange" but still interesting. Had to hide it deep down in my backpack because it's banned in China...

9. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden). The ideal book to shorten a long train trip, but a bit too "easy" for my taste. No big surprises in there...

8. Midnight Children (Salman Rushdie). A more difficult read than the other books, but excellent.

7. Animal Farm (George Orwell). Bought back in Russia when we were happy to find a bookshop with a few English books, but I only read it (or re-read it, had already read it back in my school days) between Japan and South Korea. Always great, a classic.

6. Underground - The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (Haruki Murakami). I bought this book because it was mentioned by Paul Theroux and because we were in Japan. He collected stories from people who experienced the sarin attack by Aum in Tokyo. It reveals a lot about how the Japanese "work". It made a big impression on me.

5. Meister und Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov). I was very happy to receive this book from Juergen, who had brought it from Austria but when he heard that I had run out of reading material and that it was just impossible to find foreign-language books in Ulan-Ude, he very spontaneously offered it to me. Thank you very much! A great book by a great russian writer, definitely worth reading (I would recommend you buy it in a translation in your native language).

4. Die Nacht von Lissabon (E. M. Remarque). I bought it because that's what they had at the bookstore in St. Petersburg. Interesting book and very well written.

3. Die Apothekerin (Ingrid Noll). Very entertaining. Lasted for one 24-hour train trip.

2. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (Paul Theroux). An excellent travel book, a must for train lovers and independent travellers. Miguel read it as well (after remarking that it was "too big", he read it all in one go...) ;-)

1. Von Sibirien nach Japan (Klaus Scherer). The making-of (and a lot of background information and photos) of a TV programme about Siberia (Kamkatchka and Sakhalin) and Northern Japan. Very entertaining, and a good preparation for our trip!

Converted to Catholicism?

Yesterday we arrived in São João del Rey, a town with a nice old centre and lots of nice baroque churches. As the afternoon was spent with getting a haircut (Miguel), going on-line (Miguel) and sleeping (me), we only walked around town in the evening when most churches were closed.
But in the evening, after the 7 pm mass, there was a procession to celebrate Lent (Quaresma in Portuguese, the 40th day before Easter), during which a Jesus on the cross was carried through the streets and everybody followed praying the Rosary. We walked with them. We didn't pray the Ave Maria though, but we looked at the churches and chapels where the procession stopped and a group played music (which was nice, except for the trumpettist who was off-tune...).
So, no, we haven't converted to Catholicism, but we just took it as an occasion to visit the town!

26 February 2010

Getting tired

When you cannot anymore count with the fingers the number of the days you had to wake up before dawn to catch a bus/train, travel unconfortavel, arrive to a new city check three hotels and have to decide which was is the least bad.

The good thing is to confirm more and more that the best of the travel is the less turistic cities/villages where you are treated as a normal person and not a walking ATM.

Contemporary Art in Brazil

Is in Inhotim, MG

It is a huge space suitable for huge installations (usually one per building). Big names are already there. All this is in a amazing garden partially planned by Burle Marx.

21 February 2010

In Brazil

Sabará, near Belo Horizonte, where is Igrejinha do Ó (not in the picture).

Season change

Few days ago we were with one meter of snow packed in the sidewalks, almost impossible to get out of home and we were obliged to drive for 2000km to get our plane in time.

Now we are in summer, t-shirt and shorts (or skirt or dress) all the time in Brazil. We are visiting Lorenza, my brazilian friend from the time I lived in Finland. So, for me back in Belo Horizonte and for Eva a first visit to the brazilian culture.

Also, this season change obliged us once more to re-arrange the backpack, from winter mode to summer mode. A big deal, the backpack which was just 10 or 11kg in winter mode (we were dressing the rest of the weight) is now with 14kg, as the jacket, fleece, shoes, long-sleves are all inside. We have also decided not to carry anymore our winter clothes that we bought and got offered in Chicago (thanks Hannah!). Just that there is no space and we are affraid we will not get again to as cold as it was in North of the United States. So, this just to tell that like at home, we too have to move winter and summer clothes from one place to another. Just that in the backpack is only inverting the stack.

Brazil, here we go.

14 February 2010

Passing through Switzerlad

On our 2000km drive down the East coast of the US we passed by two "Switzerland" villages. Was a bit like going home in a flash of time.

13 February 2010

Hotels in United States

We stay always in big hotel chains (Super8, Motel6) or in small motels. The quality is aceptable, they are clean and cost between 45 and 80USD, depending on the location and day of the week. Sometimes it includes continental breakfast (cofee, cereals, bread and jam). The rooms have one king-size bed or two queen-size. The price is for the room, accomodating up to 4-persons. Sometimes there is microwave, fridge and coffee machine. There are always two towels per person and the shower is fixed (no hand hoose) and you cannot choose the water pressure, only the temperature. They are usually motels by the roads, not pedestrian accessible.

11 February 2010

Washington, Margaret, Brad, Christina and Marc

They are the family that hosts us in Washington area. They live in Alexandria, Virginia in a 3-floor house. The parents are around 50 years-old and the sons are 16 and 13. Margaret and Brad are both graduated on health and they worked for one year in the Thai-Cambodia border dealing with the refugees. Is the most comfortable couchsurfing place we found so far and we sleep six nights there. Not as an option but because we arrive at the beginning of a historical snow storm which stops all the public transports and schools. Margaret is very energetic and at home is always cooking or willing to go out to do some activity. We go with them to a SuperBowl party at some friends place and the day after to their church to watch the beginning of the SuperBowl game. Only once we go to Washington, taken by Margaret, but the excess of snow makes the walk very tiring and uninteresting. The museums are closed. We walk twice by the streets of Alexandria, we cross-country ski on the streets full of snow. I help to clean the snow around the house and from a roof; Eva makes bread and I make hot wine. From Friday to Saturday night it snows around 60cm and Tuesday night and Wednesday some 30cm more. Without a better solution we rent a car from Thursday to go until Miami. The familiy house is big. The ground floor has an office and a living room on the left of the entrance, a dining room, the kitchen and another living room on the right of the entrance. On the top of the stairs there was a bathroom, the parents room and the rooms for each of the sons. Some more stairs and there was our room, a space for games and a paiting room. Around the house they have a small green house, a tree house and a garage.

10 February 2010

New activities

Since Friday, when we arrived to the area of Washington DC that a couple of historic snow storms is changing the life of people, including ours. We are staying with a nice couchsurfing family in Alexandria, state of Virginia, just couple metro stations away from downtown Washington. Since Friday that school is closed and since Saturday that museums and public transport do not operate outside downtown Washington. Today is Wednesday and wind is blowing very strong, together with a good amount of snow (25cm?), which is going above the 60cm of snow that fell down during Saturday. Here in Alexandria not every year there is snow and when there is, usually it falls just couple of centimeters, that are cleared out in a couple hours. This means that people do not have winter tires neither there are many snow clearing machines. On the sidewalks all the snow is cleared with shovels.

So while Eva did a nice bread yesterday and today she is solving a puzzle, I helped out to shovel in front of the house and to remove the accumulated snow over their greenhouse which roof was starting to feel the weight of 70cm of snow.

On Monday we went to downtown, mostly walking, but sidewalks were full of snow and wet snow, making walking an horrible activity.

Maybe I should go back and ski like on Saturday...

ah, and hopefully we will be leaving Washington tomorrow... by car. No trains operate, half of airplanes do but are fully booked. Without other solution, three days of driving is what expect us. We expect that few hundred miles south the snow here was just rain there and roads are clear!

06 February 2010

Couchsurfing reenconter

In New York City we met Liuba, our Couchsurfer host in Yaroslavl, Russia. In June 2009 she was at her family place to renew her passport and hosted us. We did not forget her and now we made to meet Liuba again at her new city. Just like this. She could not host us this time, but we visited two art galleries.

Snowstorm paralyses Washington DC and eastern US

Basically... we are there!


And our photos (today taken during a walk and a cross country ski ride on the roads):
Eva skiing on the street of our hosts

A car is hidden in the snow!

The Washington Post, February 5th 2010, Movie Reviews

The Last Station
Contains a scene of sexuality and nudity.

From Paris with Love
Contains nearly constant violence, pervasive obscenity, drug use and brief sexuality.

Fish Tank
Contains profanity, smoking, teen drinking and some sexuality.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: the squeakquel
Contains mild crude humor and slapstick violence.

Broken Embraces
Contains sexual content, language and drug material.

Contains intense thematic material.

Journey to Mecca
Contains brief swordplay during an attack by bandits.

When in Rome
Contains some mildly naughty still photos and suggestive art work.

The Princess and the Frog
Contains nothing objectionable.

The United States
Contains pervasive obesity, extensive bag-controlling, nearly constant pollution by paper cups, and presence of gun material.

05 February 2010

A story

"You should choose the braised beef ribs. You can share it. Mashed or baked potato? And have the house vegetables with it. Very good choice. You'll have a coffee? You got it.
Where are you from? I'm from Germany. My family is from Stettin, but that's now Poland. After the war they went to Eastern Germany, about an hour from Berlin. I went to Berlin often, I like this city a lot. Then came the Communists, and you know, you couldn't own anything. We were expropriated four times. Then my family escaped through the tunnels to the west. We went to Stuttgart. My mother was an interpreter there for the American army. In the seventies we emigrated to America. But I would like to go back. I like Europe better. And in Germany, all is very orderly. That's the only system that works, the orderly system... here nothing works anymore.
Cheesecake? Oh yes we have cheesecake, the best in town. More coffee?
You have to say hello from me to your mother and your grandmother. And tell them I'm from Stettin... remember I'm from Stettin, they will want to know."

Waitress at the Courthouse Diner, Queens, NYC

04 February 2010

Brookly, Lisa and Wistlepig

Brookly is elected as our district while staying in New York City. Lisa is our host together with Wistlepig, a young dog. The aparment on the ground-foor of Carol Gardens neighbourhood is nice and full of things. Lisa, even though she works as a nanny and in a kindergarten, she likes handcrafts and does crochet, paints, clays. The entrance of the apartment is to the kitchen which has a small toilet on the side. To the left there is an arch going to the living room with a corner table, a sofa-bed and books, sewing table, etc. A second arch from the living room goes to the storing area. The apartment belongs to someone that makes a cheap rent in exchange that he keeps his storage in the house. A door from that storage are goes to Lisa's room where there was the bathroom. We are feel comfortable and we cook once and we take breakfast at home. The nearby supermarket was simple but good (even with portuguese bread). On the last day something happens with Lisa's family and neither her or the dog sleep at home and we could not say goodbye.

03 February 2010

The Law

"We're not allowed to do it" - "That's the law" - "You cannot be here"
Phrases I'm getting so tired of, because we hear them all the time in the US. Isn't this a "free" country?....

We took a train in the evening for a trip that would last about 24 hours. Sleeping cars are very expensive here so we just have to sleep on the seats. When we got on, there was a lot of space in the train so we each took a double seat. Conductor (big black guy) comes. "You together? Then you have to sit together." Me: "The train's half empty." Conductor: "But it's gonna be VERY FULL." Me: "Aha, but I can move during the night if you need the seats, no problem." Conductor: "Huh?" I repeat what I've just been saying, but apparently I've hurt his personal feelings or something as he just walks away while I'm still talking to him. We sleep each on a double seat and when we wake up in the morning the train is still half empty (as we expected).

The only way to get public internet in this country is at the library. Usually one has to sign up, show a passport, and gets an hour of free internet. At the Chicago library, we got 2 computers, my session starting 15 minutes earlier than Miguel's, so when I was done I went over to him as we needed to do something together. Security guy comes: "You can't be on this chair." Thinking that he didn't want me to sit on the chair intended for the computer next to the one we were using, I just stand up and continue typing the e-mail I'm writing. Security guy: "No, you can't be 2 at the same time on one computer." We: "We're not making any noise and we just need to do this together." He: "You need permission from the front desk to do this."
AAAAHHHHH This is too much for me. I'm done with my e-mail so I tell Miguel to stop talking to that stupid guy, sit down and I'll go somewhere else and read a newspaper.

Chicago, I need new contact lenses. I go into a big optician's store and ask if they sell them. "Only if you have a prescription from a doctor or an eye test from us." I say something like "please, I'm just travelling, I've had my eyes checked less than a year ago, I just need some new contact lenses" but it's "No, we don't have the right to sell you contact lenses."
Oh yeah, I could have a problem with my eyes in 2 years and then come back and sue them for having sold me contact lenses without a prescription. Argh, I should just have bought them in Singapore....

USA experiences...

Black woman in NY subway wearing a hat with the inscription: "God is my Boss".
Three black men singing gospels in a NY underpass.
Lots of people walking their dogs in the streets (the dogs are the new children).
The Chicago wind - so icy that it's painful.
Families going out for Sunday lunch in a hamburger restaurant in a small town in New Mexico.
People so fat you could never imagine it.
The ubiquitous question: "How are you today?"

In the streets of Chicago, Boston, New York....

... there's a Swiss-Portuguese couple desperately looking for a nice cafe, selling coffee in real cups instead of paper or styrofoam cups....

Americans are obsessed with organic, whole-food, vegetarian, vegan, non-dairy, non-fat, and generally good-for-your-health food.... but it usually comes in plastic plates and paper cups and you eat it with disposable forks.... all this producing a HUGE amount of waste.

Is this really good for our health?