Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Single Story...

I had the enormous privilege of seeing Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie speak about her latest novel last week. I knew nothing about her except that she was Nigerian and that she had written a book I'd loved (Americanah 2014 #29 in The Book Nook). I left the event 90 minutes later inspired and wanting to know more.

Today I watched Chimimanda's TED talk, The Danger of a Single StoryThroughout she talks about how limiting and how damaging a single story or viewpoint about a person can be, that it creates stereotypes that while not necessarily incorrect, are more often than not incomplete. That a single story creates presumption rather than openness, a potential wall of prejudice in our relationships with one another as human beings. She told of her own single stories, blown apart by having the opportunity to see things from a different perspective and also of the single stories about herself, experienced through the eyes of others.

It made me think more about single stories and one of the most extreme and damaging of all time - the Nazi 'story' about the Jews. Scary stuff.

It also made me think about the single stories about me: each twist of my kaleidescope reveals a potential single story - laconic Aussie, 40-something woman, single lady, career woman, Dutch pragmatist just to name a few. Even so, the whole is so much more than just the sum of all of these.

Then there are my single stories about others and I began thinking about how this starts with our parents. We see them as Mum and Dad and then they become 'people' as we get more and more perspective about them. How my Dad went from the person I thought was my biggest critic to someone who was more proud of me than I ever knew. How my Mum continues to be one of the strongest and most inspiring women I know, rising to every challenge and finding strength of purpose again and again in making a difference. 

I was even thinking beyond people to my original single story about London and how every discovery I make about it both enriches my experience of living here and deepens my love for this amazing city. 

It made me think about my reading of Americanah as my first dip into 'Nigeria' and how much I loved it and took the story to heart. And how this was my single story until I saw Chimimanda speak both on Thursday night and today on her TED talk. 

And as I only read it three weeks ago, it made me think (not for the first time) that life has the ability to transform when you read.

So that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Welcoming The World...

In my last post, I took you on an armchair tour around my pre-work weekend in Rio de Janeiro, where I climbed mountains, strolled along the beach, ambled around the lagoon and sauntered through markets and gardens. And I must say that throughout the trip, I kept thinking to myself 'I am in Rio. Who gets to live this kind of ridiculous (in a good way) and surreal life?' Apparently that would be me.

Standing on Arpoador with Ipanema beach stretching away behind me.
But for all its easy amiability, there's another side to Rio: More than a million of the city's poor live in favelas, or shanty towns. Over 900 favelas perch on the hills around Rio, hundreds of delapidated shacks clustered amongst the green slopes rising from alongside Rio's most affluent communities.

This is a view of Copacabana from the Arpoador Fort - you can see the favela lights stretching up into the hills to the left of the lamp post.
There has been significant investment to improve conditions and reduce violence and general crime since 1994 and I am told this continues in earnest as next month's FIFA World Cup and more particularly, the 2016 Olympic Games will focus the world's eye on the city. A police presence has been installed in a number of favelas and construction projects like the cable car system for the Complexo do Alemeao are being designed to facilitate workers' ability to earn a living. The cable car has also made the favela itself something of a tourist attraction (although reports of occasional outbreaks of violence and drug trafficking was enough to deter me).

The favelas have attracted many artists. The towns themselves are well known for their brightly painted shacks and are popular subjects for local painters with dozens of colourful canvasses on display in local markets.

One of a myriad of favela art collections on sale at the Feira de Artes de Ipanema 
While I didn't visit any favelas, they were easy enough to see, one of the largest climbing the hills behind Ipanema and Copacabana whilst the Complexo do Alemao and its cable car were clearly visible from the main road leading from Barra de Tijuca to the airport. I found myself bemused by this glamorous portrayal of Rio's slums and I wondered how many tourists pay eagerly for their 'authentic' souvenir, oblivious to the abject poverty and danger that these people live with every day. I felt like the proceeds should somehow go towards further improving conditions in these communities.

In any case, most of the colleagues I spoke to would never dream of venturing into one of these areas yet were complimentary of programmes to improve conditions and safety. What was also interesting was their surprise at my catching a local bus service from Cosmo Velho (near the station whose train takes you up to Christ the Redeemer) back down to Ipanema on Saturday afternoon - surprised that I actually worked out how to manage this and pleased that I felt safe enough to do it. 

That's the thing - I felt safe. Shoulder to shoulder with locals, the bus whizzed through suburb after suburb and I felt like I saw more of the 'real' Rio in that 40 minute trip. And despite the lack of English speaking amongst local storekeepers and waiters, everyone was friendly and willing to help - so with the aid of a very limited 'Lonely Planet' vocabulary and some pretty impressive (if I do say so myself) charades, I managed to feed, water and generally navigate myself around this great city...

...walking along Ipanema Beach, I watched the cariocas (residents of Rio) play, at one with the sand and the sea...

Top left is Praia de Diabo (Devil's Beach); the rest were taken on Ipanema Beach
...admiring the easy yet watchful opportunism of the local traders, whether on the beach, in the market or simply capitalising on a captive audience...

Clockwise from top left: opportunistic selling on the ride up Corcovado to Christ the Redeemer; bikinis for sale on Ipanema beach; one of the most popular drinks in Rio is coconut juice; a bit of carnival spirit at the Hippie Fair; local art on display; sarongs for sale.
...and ambling along tree-lined streets with their colourful apartment blocks, wondering who might live there.

Top row; Ipanema
Bottom row L to R: Leblon, Ipanema, Laranjeiras
Rio is a city tucked cosily around its mountainous surrounds and retains the easy intimacy of a cluster of villages rather than the hustle and bustle of a metropolis of more than 6 million people. It is surrounded by extraordinary natural beauty and spectacular scenery and the natives - or cariocas - are outdoorsy, easy-going and hugely welcoming. You might argue that I've only scratched the surface but I think the world will enjoy its first Olympic soujourn in South America.

Let's hope that Rio will be able to put its best foot forward.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

I Go To Rio...

Actually, I've been and come back - to Rio, that is. But these are the words, from the fabulous Peter Allen song, that played in my head over and over again during my visit so it seemed an appropriate title (versus the more mellow and perhaps obvious The Girl from Ipanema) for this first cursory brag about squiz at my week in Rio de Janeiro.

Yes peeps, that's where I've been.

I went for work - to visit our team there (sigh...I love my job) - and I took some time last weekend to have a wander around and explore a little. I had planned to post in situ but the wifi wasn't great for photo uploading and having only arrived back yesterday evening, I've only just managed to do the necessary chores and sort my photos so this post is a 'best bits in pics' and I will follow it up with a little more detail on a couple of specific things in posts to come. So here we go...

On Saturday morning, I got on one of these... see what the man on the mountain...

Christ the Redeemer - or Cristo Redentor in the local lingo - sits atop Corcovado (the hunchback)
 ...was looking at.

Windswept selfie!
 It was pretty bloody good if you ask me.

The view from the top. That's Ipanema on the other side of the lagoon, where my weekend digs - the Ipanema Inn - were located.
I came down the mountain and explored some more...

The largo do boticario, an oasis of colour off the main road in Cosmo Velho
 ...before meeting someone for a local 'brew with a view' in the evening.

View of Copacabana beach from the Arpoador Fort
The next day (that's Sunday - are you keeping track?), I wandered a block from my hotel to Ipanema Beach...

...before hitting the back streets to find a little musical history...

Previously Bar Veloso, the bar Garota de Ipanema at 49 Vinicius de Moraes, is where Moraes and Tom Jobim were inspired by the 17-year-old Helo Pinheiro, the original Girl from Ipanema, to pen one of the world's most ubiquitous tunes. 
...and local expression. 

The Hippie Fair in Ipanema (or Feira de Artes de Ipanema if you are practising your Portuguese) has a whole gamut of arts and crafts for sale as well as some local vittels if you get a bit peckish. It's also a mecca of artistic expression for local painters - this was one of my favourites.
 Heading back towards the beach, I walked out onto Porto do Arpoador...

...and then back to the hotel for a short rest before setting off for the Botanic Gardens.

I passed a pleasant couple of hours here before heading back towards the hotel, my path taking me around the lagoon.

And then it was time to enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the lights of Ipanema before packing my suitcase to move to my 'work hotel' in Barra de Tijuca on Monday...

View from my room on the 10th floor of the Sheraton Barra (pronounced Ba-ha)
 ...and while that was the end of my personal meanderings, a very early flight to Sao Paulo Tuesday morning meant I got to see this from the taxi... 

Ipanema dawn well as this...

Copacabana sunrise

...before taking this photo from the plane.

That's Ipanema beach on the left and Copacabana beach on the right.
So if that hasn't inspired you to google travel deals to the carnival city, I'll leave you with the original shoulder-shimmying boy from Oz...

If that doesn't do it, nothing will!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

What Lies Before Me...

Here we are at another 1st and this time it's the first of May...

Ooops! This is what happens when good intentions get waylaid and a person gets laid low by a hideous migraine.

But I'm back, albeit a little overdue, which means it's time for another Calendar Challenge...

There are the obvious 'lush' perspectives here (although in the last few days, I have never felt less like a drink in my life). There's the social glue of getting together with friends and putting the world to rights. The importance of a cracking red with a new 'local' pizza at the end of countless moving-house-again days. The virtual Cheers! across the miles with Lil Chicky via WhatsApp or Facebook. In fact, the sheer necessity of such an indugence if one is to have a balanced outlook on life.

And this brings me to an important point, one which a friend and I were discussing a few weeks back guessed it...a bottle of red. We have both come to realise that, at this point (we are in our mid-forties), we are at about the halfway point in our lifetimes. (All going according to the statistics of course - as an Aussie sheila, it's expected I'll be popping my clogs at 85.6.)

Anyway, it made for some interesting discussion about what we would do and in fact what the world would be like for the next 40 years or so. Will our jobs still exist and if they do, what are the chances of us wanting to do them? And for how long? Where will we live? What things will we do to inform, amuse, educate, indulge ourselves? How do we shape the years that stretch ahead of us before they shape us? How much planning do we do and how much should we leave to serendipity, chance or spontaneous gut feeling?

I have no answers, this being a new and slightly unsettling line of thought for me. My life right now feels really full and fabulous, like the work of the last 44 years has come to fruition and given me the life I always dreamed of. Even so, I found myself picking up Investors Chronicle magazine with my Saturday paper this morning and over the last week or so 'google writing courses' keeps popping up on my mental to-do list. And I swear there's that brine-y cloying smell of the sea in my future somewhere.

It's not that I'm racing off into the wild blue yonder - breaking the glass in an emergency so to speak - with any of this yet but this recent twist of the kaleidoscope has made me wonder what would make me happiest in my future and how I give myself the wherewithal to be there, wherever there turns out to be.

My move to the UK was driven by that deep-down feeling in my gut that this was what was right and next in my life. And it was sudden so it makes me wonder what the next catalyst for change in life as I know it will be. I sincerely hope it won't be anything tragic. Perhaps it will just sneak up surreptitiously, moving me along a gentler path until suddenly I look around and say, 'Aah yes, this is exactly where I am meant to be.' 

Life has a funny way of showing us a path when we least expect it but to my way of thinking, I need to take a few more steps off the beaten track and forage about in the undergrowth a bit to understand what I might really like to have in my future.

Who knows what I might find. 

Calendar Challenge 2014 - Back Catalogue
Keep Calm And Carry On
Sour Grapes
Water Water Everywhere

On The Shore