Saturday, July 27, 2013


Blogging was so much easier on the road.  Part of that's because of the novelty of life on the road but mostly due to the lessened daily responsibilities.  Sure, we still had to feed ourselves and generally make sure the children weren't complete ruffians, but we didn't have piles of clutter, bills, work, etc.  And it's not that interesting things haven't happened after our family trip.

To whit--I went to Brazil in June (and am just now getting around to at least share some photos here).  For the work side of things, I was asked to present to an industry lobbying group on how to evaluate advocacy efforts.  I was one of six invited presenters (three Americans, one Irish and two Brazilians) and the only non-academic.

Because the trip came so fast on the heels of Iceland and France, I think it was literally the day or two before my arrival that I had time to really even realize I was soon going to be in another country, realizing things like, oh, yeah, I know absolutely no Portuguese.  What should I eat?  What should I do while I'm there?  Next thing I knew, I was saying goodbye to Tyler and the kids and on a plane headed south.

So, first off--my business travel is usually not so glamorous.  I've had many more trips to Pasco, Washington or Palo Alto, California.  And not since my first overseas trip to Indonesia have I been treated to business class.  Man, it's a good thing I didn't have this trip *before* the flight to Iceland.  I won't lie.  It's nice.  Food.  Wine.  Room to stretch out.  The little bag of goodies with useful things like eye masks and hand cream and socks.

Another unusual perk of this particular conference--the super fancy "VIP suite" next to the conference room.  It was gorgeous.  And we spent almost no time in it.

Yet it is also still a long overnight haul.  And I was still totally jetlagged upon arrival.  Even though Brasilia is only four hours ahead of Seattle, the red eye flight and not enough sleep still threw me for a loop.

After checking in, getting a bit more sleep and catching up on some work, I headed out with one of the other presenters to do a little sightseeing.  She wanted to head to a mall for some presents for her grandkids.  Not usually my first choice of an outing in a new country, but it was nice to have some company, and the mall was an interesting first look at the key thing to know about Brasilia:  it has fascinating architecture.

The outside of the mall, with the soaring entryway and two halves of a circle with the circle in the middle.  The shopping section was just two floors.  Oh and every store had at least six employees ready to wait on the couple of customers who seemed to be there at any given moment.
Mostly when I mentioned I was going to Brazil for a conference people would say, "Rio?!"  And I would say, "No, Brasilia," at which point they would pretty much have the same comment I initially had, which was something like, "Is that the capitol?  Is it on the beach?"  Yes, and no. But when I mentioned to some clearly better-read friends, one of them exclaimed, "You're so lucky!  The architecture!"  And so I learned about Brasilia.

Essentially, in the 50s the president decided to move the capitol and create a brand new city in the center of the country.  (Rio is still peeved.)  So it's a planned city with architecture from one particular period and even generally one particular architect, who is spoken of in reverent and hushed terms among the Brasilia residents I met, Niemeyer.

After the conference, I got to tour around and see lots of Neimeyer's work with the other presenters and some kind (and English-speaking) Brasilians associated with our conference, including the striking Cathedral:

The cathedral, flanked by large bronze statues of some of the apostles

I didn't realize until going in how gorgeous the stained glass is, with sculptures of angels hanging from the ceiling.
Outside the chapel, to the left is a bell structure, further back and on the left, the national gallery--more on that later

A large plaza with a monument (center, white) and bird tower (concrete, left)

One thing you might have noticed from the previous pictures is that the design of the city is big on lots of plains of concrete.  Which is an interesting choice, given the heat and lack of shade available.

Next to the plaza is the Supreme Court building
 But what was really amazing was that the wife (who was really lovely, more on her later) was a key staff person for the ranking Senator of Brazil.  So she was able to take us into the Congress.  While we weren't allowed to take any photos inside, we actually got to go into the senator's office (in one of the white towers below) and into the Senate (bowl down) and the House (bowl up).  I learned to tell the difference between the two sides because the design was based on the idea that the House is meant to take in the ideas and voices of all the people (hence its openness) while the Senate is more closed and insular.

Panorama of the Congress
I'm sure at one point Brasilia seemed out of date, but it is so mod and stylish.  In almost all of the buildings, there was fashionable furniture and rugs like this

After seeing the Congress buildings, we tried to go to some exhibits at another government building, but it was closed.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs--the photo doesn't do justice, but the architecture and its reflection in the pond were something to behold

I never got my own photo of the Department of Justice, but it was one that intrigued me.....

So, instead, we got to drive out to see the President's house:

Pretty snazzy digs!

Because I was going so far (12+ hours on a plane), it was silly to arrive and turn right back around, so I stayed an extra day.  The same woman who had taken us to the Congress offered to come and take me and one of the other presenters still in town sightseeing again. 

We went up to a TV tower, which is also attractive and from which you can get a lay of the land.  Brasilia is laid out with a central mall along which run all the ministries down toward the Congress, Supreme Court and the plaza I saw the first day.  Then the city fans out on either side like wings, and each kind of area you can imagine has a district.  So we were in the hotel district, which is directly adjacent to the central area.  But interestingly there are two hotel districts, one north and one south, and the districts are mirror images to each other.  So you know if you need to do banking, or go to a pharmacy, or the like, that you would go to one of the two districts with that kind of stuff.

Looking down the mall--the white bump toward the back are the towers of the Congress building

Ariel view (not my own) so you can see the winged shape and the lake

A fancy bridge--my photo was blurry
Stopping to actually go into the National gallery (and prove I was actually there).  Unfortunately, they were between exhibits so there wasn't much to see, but it is a wild building.
The swoosh

The line of ministry buildings

She also took us to lunch on the lake and helped me mail postcards home, Stella's only real request of me on the trip!

I'm so glad I got the opportunity to go there.  A few other random thoughts:

  • The people I met there were absolutely lovely, so helpful and hospitable.  People really went out of their way to share their city and country with me in a way that was really touching.
  • And everyone who spoke English apologized for the poorness of their English, which was ridiculous.  I could hardly pick up "thank you" before I left.  I thought I'd be in better shape than I was with my background of some French and Spanish, but Portuguese has different sounds and a sing-song quality that I could not pick up at all in the few days I was there.
  • Business travel is an interesting thing.  I always feel like I'm getting a somewhat insular experience--I'm picked up, taken nice places, and don't always feel like I get a real feel for the place.  But getting to go to the Congress and seeing sites with a local was an amazing treat and I got way more out of my time there than I would have otherwise.
  • The protests started right as I was leaving, which I didn't see any of, though the Confederation Cup was about to get underway.
  • The city is like a museum almost.  Almost everything is striking--there are mosaics and sculptures and notable architecture and well-designed furniture everywhere you look.  I can't imagine another city like it in the world.
It definitely created a hunger to go back and see more of the country.  (Though I better learn some Portuguese first...)


Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

BTW, is that a rhea on the lawn of the president's house?


Sarah said...

Yes! Good eyes!