Friday, October 28, 2005

Honeymoon's Over!

Our glorious 36 hours of freedom came to an abrupt end on Monday morning (of last week), as the curtain of reality fell shut behind us, severing our material existence from the misty dreamlike recollections of our fantasy weekend. Was it real? Did we dream it? Within 48 hours of our return from Petropolis, the memories already seemed illusory and indistinct-- the intensity of daily routine had nearly drowned out the invigorating effects of our tranquil respite. Throughout most of last week, Petropolis seemed so distant, in fact, that it would have been far easier to write about the trials and tribulations of parenthood than dredge up the memories of our wonderful weekend.

Domestic life has been all-consuming, and I have been absent from blogging. Ahhh ... would that my absence were due to our having resolved to extend our stay in Petropolis indefinitely!

Alas, 'tis not to be! But give me another fifteen years until we can send Kevin off to college! Until then, I'm hanging out around here, so here's an update to fill in the lacuna between Petropolis and today.


Notwithstanding its name sounding like a setting straight from a Marvel superhero comic book, Petropolis is indeed an Imperial city, founded by imperial decree in 1843, by Emperor of Brazil Dom Pedro II (Petropolis = "pedro - polis" = "Pedro's - City"). It is located in the mountainous region of Atlantic rainforest that encircles Rio de Janeiro on nearly all sides, about 53 km from the capital, at an altitude of 809 m above sea level. Its altitude and forested terrain means that it has a cool and refreshing climate in the summer, and can get downright chilly in the winter.

When Petropolis was founded, Brazil was a young empire, having recently declared its independence from Portugal. Pedro II's father, Emperor Pedro I, had long dreamed of building his palace in the mountains outside of Rio, due to its pleasant climate. Within a few years of Pedro II's decree, contracted German settlers had carved a European-style village out of the mountainous jungle, complete with the massive chateau that was to be the Emperor's official residence and imperial seat during Rio's scalding and disease-prone summer months, which Brazil's mostly European-born nobility found so unpleasant.

Petropolis quickly grew into a prosperous city, as the Brazilian aristocracy and its rich merchants and peerage took up residence there. Its tree-lined avenues reveal mansion after mansion; the elite of European high society of the 19th-century would most assuredly have felt right at home on Petropolis' cobblestone streets. Petropolis continued as the summertime capitol of Brazil until 1889, when the Empire was overthrown and Brazil became a Republic. Dom Pedro II was forced into exile with the royal family after reigning for nearly 50 years. Petropolis' importance gradually waned; today Petropolis is a small city in its own right, but its principal importance still lies in its proximity to Rio de Janeiro, and its attraction as a pleasant escape from Rio's urban chaos and summer heat.

Cristina and I stayed in a charming bed and breakfast called the Monte Imperial located in a serene woodland setting, on a hilltop behind the Imperial Palace (which is now the Imperial Museum). The small inn is located in what was once the "Emperor's Wood", a large park that belonged to the royal family that has mostly been lotted out. The strange thing is that the Imperial Museum is now right in the middle of downtown Petropolis, but you would never know it from the locale in which the hotel is situated. It really feels like you are in the middle of a forest.

The highlight of our visit ... besides just relaxing, far from the demands of domestic affairs and children ... was the nighttime show of Sounds and Lights at the Imperial Museum, on Saturday night. It is a truly first-class production, with a sophisticated surround-sound system and light show coreography; shadow projections from the inside of the museum make it look like people are attending an Imperial ball during a dramatized video projection on curtains of water of the wedding ceremonies of Pedro II's two daughters (all pre-recorded ... not theatrical). The only unfortunate thing about the production is that it is presented exclusively in portuguese; if you are a non-portuguese speaking tourist you will have to bring your own simultaneous translator if you want to get much out of it.

On Sunday, we slept in (yes!!!), and awoke to the hotel's spectacular buffet-style breakfast, amply served with fruits, breads, cheeses, and cakes. We then strolled about Petropolis, taking in the ambience, the many stately manors and mansions, visited a nunnery and bought chocolates made by the sisters, and arrived at the city's cathedral just in time for mass. We then visited the Imperial Museum once again (by day); although we have been there before with the kids, we find that (for some reason!) we don't get as much out of it as when alone. It was nice to be able to stop long enough to read the descriptions of each exhibit!

We finished off our stay with a delicious lunch at a little bistro / tea house on the museum grounds before heading down the mountains and back into reality. Our arrival home was uneventful. We were pleased to find that Kevin took our absence in stride; although he was happy to see us, he had enjoyed his stay with his aunt and cousins, apparently barely even noting our disappearance.

I've posted some more pictures from our visit in the gallery, here. Also, there are a few more pictures from our visit to Petropolis last year with the kids, and Regina and Gustavo, here.

Last Week

This has been a particularly tiring couple of weeks, in part because Daylight Savings Time arrived last Sunday (Oct. 16). Resetting the kids' biological clocks (and our own!) has been exhausting, since it means trying to get the kids to bed an hour earlier and getting them up at what is the equivalent of 5 am (remember, we are in the Southern Hemisphere: it's spring, going on summer, which means spring forward!). During this week, Kevin came down with some kind of cold virus that made his mouth break out with canker sores. Unfortunately, during the first day or so we saw no visible signs to explain his frequent irritability ... his refusal to eat, and his difficulty sleeping at night. Only by Thursday did the source of his misery become apparent, so we could start treating it.

Last Wednesday night, my tennis lesson was rained out again. There was even another brief power outage to drive home the message that I am not meant to be playing tennis, as if the rain was not enough.

These were just some of several harbingers of the storm that seemed to threaten. The thunderheads continued building throughout the week, an ominous sense of foreboding stretching like overcast skies in all directions. The crescendo was to be on Thursday afternoon, the meeting scheduled to discuss our oldest child's difficulties with math, with his teacher and the school counseling staff.

As it happened, the tempest did not materialize, and in fact, the meeting had somewhat of an opposite effect: we were encouraged by the teacher and counselers, who basically convinced us that there is nothing abnormal about our fourth-grader's frustrations with math. They also assured us that he would be getting extra attention to prevent him from lagging behind. We came away with the sensation of a great burden lifted from our shoulders; granted, much of this burden may have been a product of our own imagination, but we also perceived how important it can be to maintain frank channels of communication open with the other caretakers responsible for our children's education. We had a strong feeling that we should have had this meeting a couple of months ago. Ah, well ....

Afterwards, Cristina and I went out for our traditional Thursday night pizza, and managed to recoup some of the light-heartedness of our Petropolis weekend. We also drove around some local neighborhoods to help give us ideas for painting our house.

Friday night, I met Sergio at the club to play tennis. We spoke in code over the phone to set up the time, so as not to invoke nature's malediction against my tennis playing by openly declaring our intentions. Christian also went along and knocked some balls around with Sergio's son Daniel. They seemed to hit it off well: they played for nearly two hours while we finished our game and then had a pizza.

Over the weekend, we took the kids to an exposition downtown of pre-Columbian art and artefacts (Aztec, Incan, Mayan, Nasca, etc.). Truly spectacular ... even the kids enjoyed it. We also took them for a ride on the subway, which they declared as their "favorite" part of the day. You'd never know that they have been raised in the suburbs of one of the worlds major urban metropolises ... they are our own veritable urban hillbillys!

This Week

So I had played tennis on Friday... and it hadn't rained. In my hubris, I saw fit to declare openly that the tennis curse had been broken.

Monday morning arrived, and I awoke to the perception that Nature had adopted a new, more personal tactic. I knew something was wrong as I awoke to an uncomfortable itching sensation in my nose, and realized that I barely had the energy to get out of bed. Throughout the day, my condition worsened, and it became clear that some kind of nasty cold virus had penetrated my immune system's defenses. It felt like my muscles were whithering away ... like superman on a kryptonite trip. However, my tennis lesson was only on Wednesday... surely I would be better by than, wouldn't I?

Throughout most of Monday morning we accompanied with apprehension the advance of hurricane Wilma, which chose with astonishing precision a path that took it straight from Cancun and over my brother-in-law and Cristina's sister -- Gustavo and Regina's -- house in Weston, Florida (just west of Fort Lauderdale). By a bizarre quirk of fate, Cristina's parents were there visiting. Gustavo and Regina hadn't seemed very concerned; they have lived in Florida long enough to acquire a certain immunity to hurricane fear. While we had the utmost confidence in their "hurricane-proof" house, shuttered and stocked with water and other necessities, we were somewhat concerned about Cristina's mother, Clea, who has an irrational phobia of even normal thunderstorms. We were relieved to receive word on Monday evening that they had all weathered Wilma's wrath unscathed. They were even among south Florida's lucky few whose power was returned later that very night.

Clea had ridden out the storm like a trooper, although I strongly suspect she resorted to medically prescribed soporifics to help anesthesize herself when the roaring winds started getting loud! It's funny how sometimes events like this can seem more dramatic for those of us far away than even for those who are in the midst of it. Of course, I am sure that our perception had nothing to do with the live Fox News coverage we were watching of a bunch of idiots standing out in the open in windbreakers while getting buffeted around by hurricane force gusts. How much do you suppose they pay these guys to do that?


Throughout Tuesday and most of Wednesday, my physical state improved little. But by Wednesday evening, I began to feel like I was recuperating. My energy was returning, and I no longer had that dizzy sensation. By later that evening, I was pretty sure I could defy the dark forces which sought to thwart my tennis activities, and attend my lesson. So, after popping a couple of Advils, I headed to the club for tennis.

The lesson went well ... I still sucked, but since I was a bit under the weather, my performance was more excusable. I arrived home feeling exhilarated, and proud of myself for not giving in to my virally-induced lethargy.

That night, however, my sleep was fitful. I awoke to chills and a throbbing headache, and the realization that I may have committed a grave error. I didn't need a thermometer to conclude that I was running a temperature. My state deteriotated throughout the day; my headache continued, and my nose ran, with a thick yellow and greenish ... ok, I will spare the details!

By noon I realized I needed to see a doctor. I set up an appointment for 4:15 and tried to get some rest. I was interrupted by the mailman, who required my signature for a registered letter ... a letter from the Receita Federal , which is the Brazilian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service. The letter was a notification that I am being audited for the 2001 tax year. They gave me a deadline of five days to present receipts and the other documentation they are requesting. So you can imagine what that news did to my headache!

At 4:15 I left the boxes I was digging through in the garage looking for my old receipts, and went to the doctor's office. I can still see him shaking his head with a disgusted look on his face, after I explained to him what had happened:

"You were almost well! Then you went and played tennis? What were you thinking?!?"

I didn't bother to tell him about my tennis curse because he probably would just think I was crazy; and even if he didn't, I'm sure he wouldn't have a cure. He sent me to get an x-ray of my sinuses, and then promptly declared his diagnosis: sinusitis, a sinus infection. He prescribed a small fortune in antibiotics and other medications, and sent me on my way.


So that about brings us up to date: two weeks of blog posting in one rambling post.

Today Cristina took the kids downtown to buy halloween costumes. No ... Halloween isn't really traditionally celebrated in Brazil, although it has become more and more popular year after year, mostly due to its propagation through english courses and American movies and television programs. There is no trick or treating; just partying in costume, and Brazilian's are known to love any excuse for partying. Even so, there is an active campaign by several nationalistic Brazilian groups against Halloween, which see it as another example of American cultural imperialism.

Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. But James and Christian love Halloween, and they have a party at a friends house to go to tomorrow.

I think I've rambled enough for tonight.

Time for bed ... I've got convalescing to do!


At October 29, 2005 12:33 AM, Kim said...

Okay, so you have a tennis curse? I have a softball curse. Actually, my curse runs much deeper, but the real subject is sports, right?

I started playing co-ed slowpitch softball with a group from church. In the spring season, we did a fair job. We won some, we lost some, we had fun. In the summer, we won most of our games, only getting beat by one team who seemed to be very notorious for standing at the plate and MAKING our pitcher actually pitch strikes, which is very difficult in slowpitch. Having only lost to one team, our team placed second in the summer league! With a boost in our egos, we signed up for the fall season, and having lost our best pitcher, we have not only lost most of our games, they usually end early because the other teams score so many runs.

Tonight, for example, we had a double-header (had some rained out games to make up). In the first game, we started out well, getting some hits and running the bases. While out in the field, we held the opposing team to a "no score" game - until the second inning. While we were at bat, we scored a run. When they were up again (the second inning) they score 4. Then we scored another. Then they scored another 4. But, before we knew what was happening, they had scored 19 runs!! What is THAT about???!!! So, obviously, we lost the first game. The second game started off much like the first one... our lead off batter got another triple (just like in the first game) and then it was all over from there. We scored one, then two, and what do you know! We scored a THIRD run in the first inning! Wow! We were so excited - especially since that was more than we had scored in the entire first game!! Even I got a base hit, which is more than most of my teammates can say. In fact, I scored our second run.
Anyway, it did take long for OUR honeymoon to be over. The other team (the same team from the first game) scored 13 runs their first time up. Our second at-bat was not a very good one (three up, three down) and then we allowed so many more runs the game was over. 30 minutes. That's all it took for them to whip our butts.

Before the end of the first game, while standing out in right field hollering direction to my teammates (going to third, NO! going HOME!!!) I determined we were playing like the Bad News Bears. That is how bad we suck. We played like 6 year olds. One of our players even got a guy from the stands to take his place so he could take his kids home. He didn't even want to stick around and try to help get us out of that mess.

So, all in all, I guess it's not really MY softball curse and it has nothing to do with weather or any other out-of-our-control Mother Nature issue, but it feels like a curse because we are so bad this season. Had we not done so well in the summer, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. We play again next week and I am pretty sure we will suck then too because we have sucked at so many of our games.

I wonder if they give trophies to the team that ALLOWS the most runs scored in a single season since we clearly help others do well...

At October 30, 2005 8:05 PM, Jim said...

Wow, Kim! 13 runs in one inning??? Maybe you guys should think about taking up tennis!

At October 31, 2005 12:42 PM, Mark said...

Welcome back to blogging. Wow, that was a looong post. I liked your summary of Petropolis' history. It was interesting to read what was going on there while the U.S. saw a Civil War and the age of gunslingers in the old west.


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