Notes on Puerto Rico


You’ve seen all the pics. Here are some random things I noted while in PR:

1. We were hard pressed to find a salad or vegetables. No one seems to eat them. Apparently all fiber comes from plantains.

2. A huge number of men sport rat tails

3. I have never seen more Burger King’s per capita anywhere in the world.

4. While traveling on the Ruta Panoramica, there seemed to be one radio station that was all Phil Collins, all the time.

5. As we are Jewish and it was Christmas, it seemed like fate that our rental apartment was in the same building as the best Chinese restaurant in town. We of course ate here on Christmas day.

6. There is a lot of rain in the rainforest. Shocking.

7. Since it was a holiday week, schedules at bars and clubs were a little off. One place we were told to go was closed, but a homeless man on the street seemed to know the holiday hours of at least two gay bars, and helpfully explained it to us.

8. Without saying a word, everyone assumed we were from New York. Is it just that the island sees the most tourists from NYC, or something else?

9. An absolutely crazy number of assholes with music blaring extremely loudly from their cars.

10. More fried food than any place I have ever been, much of it super delicious.

11. A refreshing honesty that results in the loss of a sale. At two separate food establishments, I order something behind the counter and the person comes back to tell me that it is not at its best, and suggests I order something else.

12. Overall, some of the warmest, most friendly people I have met anywhere. Everyone kept inviting us places, offered helpful advice, and took an interest in knowing us. Ricans are very (justifiably) proud of their island(s), and happy to share its best secrets with us. I was really blown away by how great the place was and will definitely be going back.

13.  Puerto Rico has this wonderful quality of being both home and foreign seeming at the same time.

More Paris Notes


- Perhaps b/c I have been living in NYC for several months now, but the streets of Paris seem eerily, wonderfully, quiet and calm

– I never noticed how much shorter the Metro stations are here compared to New York

– Paris has completely solved what used to be a very bad dogshit problem. I’ve seen hardly any since arriving here and it used to be everywhere.

– The food this time around has been decidedly unimpressive. It is easier to each much better and much cheaper in New York

– Some things don’t change much and it has been an absolute delight visiting with old friends here.

– Paris has put in place a grand experiment with public bike transportation called Velib’ (for velo libre – free biking). Although there are some problems with maintenance, it has absolutely changed the way people think about transport in the city, and it is pretty amazing. We took a ride today to the Bois de Vincennes.

Notes on Paris


- With only slightly more frequency than in New York, I hear people speaking English here all around me (vs hearing French in NYC)

– It was a beautiful day out, so I bought a sandwich poulet and headed to the amphitheater in front of St Eustache, where there were tons of people eating their lunch. I remember that I used to refer to this church as the “Valentine Cathedral” for the heart shaped windows on its second level.

– Walking in a crowd is different here than in New York, and I find that I bump into or cross people with much greater frequency. I have in the past said the same about New York and I realize that each culture finds its own “rhythm” for moving in crowded places.

– I love how language and culture mix around the world. I bought a made in Japan, French design inspired notebook with English writing on the cover that said “Note Book. Most advanced quality, Gives best writing features”. It sounds kinda lurid when you put it that way.

Inauguration notes


- I love that Obama mentioned “non-believers” in his speech. I believe it is the first time that a president has included and validated them as part of the American family.

– It was somehow fitting and satisfying to see Dick Cheney confined to a wheelchair.

– Aretha’s hat, my friends and I agree, was stolen from a drag queen, albeit a fierce one.

– Speaking of hats, none of the major figures get to wear them in that cold (for image purposes, one imagines). Brrr.

And some random NYC notes


- An absolutely astonishing number of people wear black here. And about eighty percent of them head to toe.

– I hear a lot of complaining about a wide variety of things on the subway. Including the subway itself.

– So far, it seems like a lot of people are nice enough to hold the door for the person behind them, but a much smaller number care to give up their seat on the subway.

Random Brooklyn Notes


- There are a surprisingly large number of dog owners here, and an even more surprisingly large number of them that dress their pets in elaborate winter ensembles.

– There are a number of very good restaurants in Brooklyn.

– Park Slope is called such because the entire area slopes gently downhill from Prospect Park. Go figure.

– Not quite as much as Manhattanites don’t like to leave Manhattan, but Brooklynites prefer, all things being equal, to stay in Brooklyn. But they sometimes have no choice.

– The “R” train is almost always a bad choice (despite it being geographically the closest stop to me).

Brazil notes, Rio


- Maybe it is the weather or time of year, but beach culture here seems a lot like…beach culture in a lot of places. Ipanema and Copacabana are great and all, but I was led to believe that life on the beach was everything here, and that it was quite a bit different from other places. To me, it is quite similar to places in Mexico, Florida, and the French Riviera. I would love to come back at carnival time and see what effect it has on the beach life.

– It is shockingly difficult to find a restaurant for breakfast in areas that should be crawling with them, like Ipanema. There are several dinner places, just not very much for breakfast. I guess people are still recovering at that hour or making something light at home.

-Speaking of restaurants, there seem to be mostly three kinds: Italian, sushi, and stand up at the counter snack places. Outside of that, we have seen exactly one all you can eat meat place.

– Although I have always heard that Copacabana is not as nice as Ipanema, we took a walk over there today and found it to be every bit as pleasant and in some ways better served than Ipanema.

Still more notes on Brazil


- A staggering number of adults here have braces. Was there a sudden drop in the price a few years ago? Are people more vain about their smile than they used to be?

– The word for bread, pão is shockingly close to the slang word for penis, pau.

– I just learned a really amazing word in Portuguese, “saudade

More Brazil notes


- They have a really odd system of payment here in a lot of establishments that involves getting a card (paper or electronic) that is then filled out (or scanned) with whatever items you purchased for payment at a cashier at the end. If you lose the card, there is a hefty fee. This system I have seen in bars, clubs, bakeries…any place where there are slightly upscale consumables. And most of these places have large menacing guys who look like they will break your knuckles should you try any funny business.

– The Sao Paulo metro is mostly wonderful. The lines are orderly, the service very fast, the stations large and clean. The only problems I see with it are the lack of AC (and it can get hot in the cars), and the price per ride (which at about one dollar US, seems a bit steep vis a vis the average salary).

Notes on Brazil (or at least São Paulo)


Here are a few of the things that stand out to me as I make my way around São Paulo:

– Lots of Santas and Xmas decorations. I know it is “the season” and all, but the amount and sophistication of Christmas displays and dueling Santas is surprising. I don’t remember seeing this many in New York even.

– Lots of cars with tinted windows. I am sure this has something to do with security (and perhaps weather) but there are a huge amount of tinted windows on the cars here.

– Cake is amazing. So far, I am very impressed with the quality of the sweets here.

– An extremely high number of people limping or walking with canes. I can’t quite figure this out. Is polio still a problem here? Are a rather large number of people maimed in accidents? The people in question are all ages, all genders, seemingly wealthy and not so.

– Most Brazilians seem to share the classic American trait of not speaking any other language besides their own, although because Spanish is so close, they can understand some (and so can I). I am hoping to have a basic working knowledge of Portuguese before leaving the country.