Archive for October, 2012

Photo diary: my Habitat for Humanity team

October 26, 2012

Our fearless leader, Scott Lyle, is a tall balding-blond civil engineer who lives in Baltimore, looks a bit like Woody Harrelson, and speaks in a strong Southern accent (very endearing to me).

the youngest member of our team, 16-year-old Christina, came with her mother Nancy from Scottsdale, AZ

Larry Galpin is a retired executive and world traveler (asked by students for his profession, he told them “playboy”)

Mikal Hasan is a thoughtful, soulful electrical technician for Washington DC’s metro system

Malini Varma from Connecticut, Mary Ann de Jesus from Queens NYC, and Susanna Kelly from Alaska shared a room

I roomed with Julian Kadish, an emergency-care physician from Boston who thoughtfully supplied me with earplugs to mask his world-championship snoring

Christina’s mother Nancy

Originally from Southern California, Laurence Ligon spent many years in Italy designing neckties

my shovel/mortar/drinking buddy Linda Collier runs her own wine store in Wilmington, DE

I bonded heavily with Carolyn Whitaker Spence, an accountant in Baltimore who loves to laugh

Handsome James Marky is an attorney in Washington DC



Photo diary: visit to a Brazilian flour mill, 10-17-12

October 17, 2012

The project I’m here in Brazil working with Habitat for Humanity on is building the 66th of a projected 100 houses meant to be occupied by women who work in a nearby flour mill. Today, the third of a five-day building experience, before we started working we visited the mill.

Obviously, it’s not just women who work at the mill.

But apparently the women especially don’t have much financial independence in this community, and they would like more. Their job consists of peeling cassava all day long, often from midnight until 11 am, with a break for a meal around 6 am. They get paid $10 for peeling a ton of cassava, which takes about a day for a skilled worker.

Cassava is a staple of Brazilian diets, and we’ve eaten it in several forms — polenta-like chucks of Generic Starch, consumed with stew, for instance; fried in tiny strips like shoestring potatoes; a millet-like grain served as a garnish sprinkled over virtually anything you might eat. This mill processes cassava in two ways that we might label dry and wet. In this section of the mill, the peeled cassava is shoveled into a chopper that grinds it up, and this guy loads the result into a low-tech system that squeezes the liquid out of it.

Then this machine sifts and stirs the dry stuff til it becomes the flour known as manioc.

I love the contrast between this shop with its hard-working barefoot dark-skinned laborers and the poster of shiny white fashion models. What I’ve left out of this picture, of course, is the sight of a dozen gringos with cameras taking pictures of everything.

The other side of the mill processes cassava in very different ways. First, the peeled tubers soak in vat until they soften.

After the liquid has been extracted from them, the remainder gets processed into fine flour used to make cakes and tapioca (a word which to Brazilians means NOT pudding or custard but a quickly fried ingredient-vehicle that’s like a cross between a tortilla and a crepe). One step involves these boys stomping on tied-up bags of mushed up manioc.

This guy was a knockout.

This woman manages the second section of the mill.

The compound also includes farm animals — cattle, horses — and, you know, a parakeet.

Photo diary: Walking around Rio on a rainy day

October 13, 2012


The last thing one pictures when preparing to visit a glamorous seaside destination such as Rio de Janiero is rain. For my two days in Rio before the Habitat for Humanity build, I booked a room in a hotel right on the famous Ipanema beach and looked forward to a little extra bit of summertime lounging and then maybe taking a bus tour of the major sightseeing landmarks (Corcovado, Sugar Loaf). Imagine my disappointment when we landed on an overcast day that turned progressively chilly, damp, drizzly, then rainy. It reminded me of going to Maui one February and being outraged when it rained virtually every day – how dare it not be sunny and clear on my vacation?!?

But secretly I was glad. Rather than spending a lot of money to sit on a tour bus for five hours (after an 11-hour flight), I much prefer to experience the city in the ordinary ways that natives do: going for a walk, shopping at the supermarket, sitting in a café writing in my journal. So that’s how I spent my day. I Googled “What to do on a rainy day in Rio” and found the perfect write-up from a blogger who calls himself Gringo Rio, among whose several suggestions was a visit to the botanical gardens, rain or shine. It was a leisurely 45-minute walk there through Ipanema and Leblon (chic adjoining neighborhoods) and along Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the large lake in the middle of Rio. Of course, when I got there, I realized that I don’t give a hoot about gardens. I know nothing about plants and trees. I had more fun taking pictures of public art (aka graffiti) on my walk and sitting in the café at the Jardim Botanico chatting with two strangers — a chatty Dane and a quieter Belgian — who met at the airport and seem to be having a travel fling.

Every snack bar on the beach sells (for R$4) coconuts you sip with a straw. I idly wondered where all these coconuts come from, and then I saw this supply truck that circulates up and down Rio do Sul restocking all day long.


a witty homage to Matisse by sculptor Alice Pittaluga

Rio is another bike-friendly city with a system that allows you to rent bikes and leave them at drop-off racks all over the city.





Quote of the day: ORCHIDS

October 13, 2012


Legend has it that witches used the tuberous roots of orchids which resemble human testicles to prepare magic potions: fresh ones to promote love, and dried ones to provoke passion. Seventeenth-century herbalists called them Satyrias, in reference to the Greek mythology god Satyros, who lived in forests and had short horns and goat legs and feet. In Portuguese, the word satiro is also a synonym for debauched and libidinous. According to a legend, Orchis, son of a satyr and a nymph, was murdered by the Bacchantes, the priestess of Bacchus, god of wine. In answer to his father’s prayers, Orchis was changed into a flower that now bears his name, the orchid. Since the Middle Ages, orchids are popular for their supposed aphrodisiac properties. Special concoctions of the tuberous roots and fleshy leaves of some species were considered as sexual stimulants and even as helping to produce male babies. That is how they became a synonym of fertility and vitality.

— “Orchid, Sex and Magic,” informational placard in the Jardim Botanico in Rio de Janeiro


Photo diary: TURBULENCE at New York Live Arts

October 11, 2012

October 6 — Keith Hennessy and Circo Zero’s Turbulence (a dance about the economy)

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