Mysore, India

2nd day in Mysore, India¬†ūüôā¬†¬†what an interesting place, beeping is just something you do when you pass someone on the street wether u r driving a scooter,rickshaw,car or bus its still not nearly as noisy as the constant traffic noise in sao paulo.big black pigs, dogs, chooks and wandering cows are a daily sight.a refreshing green coconut drink for aud0.4 at the most humid time of the day.its so dusty here!many roads arent paved, under construction or just dusty.flames along the road and smoky air from burning rubbish is not as pleasant as the incense around ūüôā¬†having an authentic tasty indian meal out for aud2 doesnt really inspire me to use the kitchen much although i do write down all the recipes i can…hope i can find all these ingredients back home!oh yes i will also have a month of bucket showers which is a very new experience..and refreshing.loving all the chai,spices and the btful food from my host.staying with 4 students who are doing the same course and have had different journeys and stories on how they got here is inspiring.ok so need to go and check what we r planning for dinner.7pm here and im sure Rani,our host is already getting ready to make some dosas.

Christmas Preparations

2014 will be the Christmas with the fewest family members around the table on 24th ever since¬†my brothers and I got married and formed our families. We will be only 7: Mother, my husband, Pierre,¬†my sons Jacques¬†(now separated from his wife) and¬†Christophe, and his wife, Camila and my brother, Edward¬†(kids spending Christmas with their mother).¬†¬†My eldest son Jean Marc, his wife and their little daughter will be in Monterey, Mexico with my daughter in law’s family;¬†my brother Mark is with his wife and girls (and their beaus) in Hawaii and my other brother, Jorge, and his family (Viktor and Alexander only –¬†Tesia is in The Hague) will only be with us for lunch on¬†25th. They usually¬†spend the 24th at home with my sister-in-law’s father. ¬†However, while¬†quantities differ, preparations remain the same.

On 24th we celebrate Wigilia. Even though we live in Brazil,¬†mother has always tried to make it as traditionally Polish as possible so¬†we abstain from eating meat on this day and we share¬†the¬†opŇāatek (Christmas wafer) before we sit¬†for diner.¬†I am carrying on the tradition. The menu this year will differ just a bit from the other¬†years¬†as¬†we won’t have¬†barszcz (betroot soup) – just mother and I eat it so we did not want to go into the trouble. But for the entr√©e we’ll have¬†herring with rye bread/butter and a glass of Polish vodka. Then mushroom patties and a number of salads, fish¬†and shrimps. For dessert I have already made a fruit compote and biscuits.

On 25th, I am preparing¬†a stuffed¬†turkey with¬†chestnuts¬†and an apple pur√©e.¬†My brother Jorge is bringing the¬†mandioquinha¬†pur√©e and entr√©es. The sweet and sour pears, a mango and an onion chutney¬†just need to be put in the bowls.¬†For dessert we’ll have biscuits and ice-cream(if my son Christophe does not forget to bring it).

The chutney and pears were prepared at the countryside two weeks ago, the biscuits last weekend and today,¬†the fruit compote¬†and¬†the mushroom stuffing for the patties. I also ¬†bought and cooked the shrimps. So tomorrow¬†there’s just the fish and the sauces left + the table decoration.¬†Ouf!

Unfortunately no Santa Claus because our little granddaughters will not be with us. It is a strange Christmas this year!

To Dad

In Brazil Father’s Day is celebrated on the 2nd Sunday of August. We do¬†not¬†pay attention to the commercial side of it, but take it as¬†another good occasion to reunite the family¬†and celebrate being together. Pierre,¬†Jacques and his one-year-old¬†daughter, Melina, Christophe and Camila came for lunch¬†at¬†mother’s on Saturday so¬†we¬†raised a glass¬†to all fathers: the present ones, the past ones and the ones to be.

Last year on¬†this same date we were also together, but¬†mourning Dad’s loss. ¬†He died on August 9th, 6 days after my birthday, which we still celebrated together. I had just come back from a month in Spain and gone¬†down to the coast to visit¬†my parents before starting classes¬†at school.¬†My son,¬†Jacques also came for the occasion and introduced him to Melina, his daughter, who was then only 3 months old.

Alzheimer disease had already ravaged his brain, robbing him of his speech and making him withdraw to his own world as his mental and physical acuity deteriorated. Yet, weak and apathetic as he may have seemed, he responded affectionately: He clapped his hands in delight and cried when we showed him his first great-granddaughter.

IMG_0957Later, before leaving, Jacques put her in his arms and took two photos, which happen to be the last  ones we have of him alive.


The photos do not do justice to the resolute, athletic and cheerful man Dad used to be. They strongly remind us, however, of his kindliness and love.

To Dad, wherever he may be now! May all dads be like him!


















The Closing Lines

After correcting and updating the front page umpteen times,  as well as some of the other pages of this website, I felt the need to add a disclaimer. I wanted to warn eventual readers that the content to be found here is not static and far from complete. Silva Rerum is a work in progress, reshaped according to the facts that are unearthed, to connections that are made and to information that is built up. As I paused to think about this, Jack Kerouac came to mind. I make his words the closing lines to the disclaimer:

He saw that all the struggles of life were incessant, laborious, painful, that nothing was done quickly, without labor, that it had to undergo a thousand fondlings, revisings, moldings, addings, removings, graftings, tearings, correctings, smoothings, rebuildings, reconsiderings, nailings, tackings, chippings, hammerings, hoistings, connectings ‚ÄĒ all the poor fumbling uncertain incompletions of human endeavor. They went on forever and were forever incomplete, far from perfect, refined, or smooth, full of terrible memories of failure and fears of failure, yet, in the way of things, somehow noble, complete, and shining in the end.
(The Town and the City, 1950)

July Holidays

My holidays started on June 28th and finish on August 3rd (my birthday!)¬†– it’s been a lucky year, with 5 uninterrupted weeks¬†+ the World Cup days off.

Pierre and I spent the first two weeks in Santos with Mum as her maid took a two-week break and I did not want to leave her to fare on her own. Mum is almost 86 and getting somewhat absent-minded. I also invited our son Jacques to come with his 1 year-old daughter, Melina,  as I felt she needed some respite and a break from the heavy 11-hour stay at the day-care center her working parents submitted her to. The breeze from the sea and a milder weather would offer a healthier environment for her to recover from a recurring cough and sneezing small children are often exposed to in closed places in the São Paulo winter.

Though it was not easy to manage the schedule and workload (different waking times, meals, washing-up, etc), everyone did their best to comply and help. We had a great family time together with lots of wine and narratives in the evening. We even watched some of the World Cup games, including the match between Belgium and Russia (guess who we rooted for?), and the vexing performance of the Brazilian team against Germany and the Netherlands.

The weather was warm and sunny and we made the¬†most of it,¬†going¬†for walks in the morning¬†and afternoon. Melina, who had just started walking a week or so before, gained¬†some leg muscle and independence running (almost) unconstrained¬†in the Santos gardens and my Mom’s big apartment. Melina¬†reacts with enthusiasm to ample spaces: Her eyes light¬†up and from the depth of her heart comes a¬†delighted¬†“Awww”¬†while she stretches¬† her little arms out as if to encompass it all. Another passion is books (and covers of books) and paintings on the wall, which she points to and pronounces a long and interesting but¬†unintelligible stream of noise. Kids are a never-ending source of wonder (for grandparents at least).

The third week Pierre and I went back to Santos (this time without Melina, who stayed with her mother and other grandmother). The maid was back and I took advantage of this to ask her to do a good cleaning. I dusted and organised¬†my mother’s drawers and folders and, in the process, managed to get a wealth of official documents with important information to put¬†together¬†my father’s biography.

Last Friday we took Melina to the countryside as we had not been there for almost a month and it was her weekend with us. Jacques joined us in the evening and Camila and Tita came for lunch on Saturday. It was cold (temperature dropped to 7 C during the night) but very sunny and the bluest sky ever during the day. Again, Melina had a great time running in the garden and enjoying an afternoon nap under the trees. When the sun went down, we lit the fireplace and sat wrapped up in blankets, drinking wine to warm up the body and the spirit.

I did some cooking (as usual) – just love my¬†clay pot for making osso buco, played Scrabble against the computer (no connection to anything there – no Internet, no mobile, not even a 3G), read a few paragraphs of Claxton’s The Heart of Buddhism¬†to get myself in the perfect mood and…big argh of disgust –¬†treated our dog’s (Ozzie) tail-¬†he had to undergo an operation to remove a¬†screwworm infestation.

I’m presently back in S√£o Paulo, working on this website and preparing myself to resume the second half of my school year. Also, looking after things related to Christophe’s wedding, which will take place on October 4th. (Just hate to have to decide on dress colour and style, shoes, hair, makeup and all that goes together with it but must face it).

Looks like we finally will have some furniture…

After a few days more with some resistant fever (although an advil shot would lower it for 8 to 12 hours), Leia is finally getting better. She is definitely feeling better given her eagerness to play, and fortunately the antibiotics didn’t provoke any secondary effects like diarrhea or skin rash. Actually her everyday papaya with “Kefir” yogurt has done wonders to regulate her poop habits. Now she poops solid, with almost swiss watch punctuality as she did back in Barcelona. It also means that she is finally adapting to the local food and modified eating hours (as the sun sets around 6pm, she is going to bed about two hours earlier than in Spain)…

Taking care of her has put a break into our search for furniture, which was getting very frustrating for two reasons:
1. There is apparently only one local quality furniture producer in Panama. Almost all the furniture is imported so what you see is what you get: scant choice for colours and any customization, when possible, implies a waiting time between 3 and 5 months to be ordered, produced, imported, released form customs and delivered…
2. There are basically two types of stores: popular stores and Italian design boutiques. In popular stores most of the furniture is of questionable taste and quality. In Italian design boutiques prices defy gravity (a couch may often cost more than a luxury car!). There is also the local show room of the french “Roche Bobois” √ľber-trendy-boutique (we never even got in there because prices belong literally to another galaxy – definitely not our league).

Yesterday (sunday) we decided to take Leia with us and investigate some last furniture stores we had found on Internet or that we discovered getting lost driving… AND THERE WAS LIGHT! We investigated Tempo Design’s second store at Samuel Lewis Ave (we had visited their smaller store at Allbrook Mall). All was at a 50%+ discount and for the price (probably inventory dump before a new container arrival) of a couch we were ready to buy at another store, we bought TWO couches, a Queen bed for Leia, two night tables and a bedroom chest of drawers. We bought in on the spot as we have already lost an opportunity to buy a dining table because we took a few days to think.
This is a low inventory, all imported business so either you are ready to wait months for an order or you have to be quick to buy. Everything should be delivered on the 31st of july, when we should already be back from a short business trip to Guatemala (Leia and Mercedes will be coming with me).

First time at Emergency Room at the Hospital…

After little more than a week coughing, sneezing and intermittent fever, we decided to take Leia to the ER at Punta Pac√≠fica Hospital when she got up this morning with 39.6¬ļC and coughing hard. We contacted Adara’s paediatrician (Adara is the Mexican friend we met queueing at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris flying to Panama) who is a specialist in lung related children diseases. Punta Pacifica Hospital is associated with Johns Hopkins International Medicine and ranked as one of the top 5 hospitals in Latin America. Oh boy, now we realise how good hospitals (even some public health service ones) are in Spain. Not that the Hospital was bad – there were some goodies not available in Barcelona (or in Europe in general) like free valet service for parking your car (actually it is not free, it is included in the pretty hefty bill you get when you check out…).
Diagnostic after a chest x-ray, blood tests and nose mucus tests: it is not pneumonia (yet), only a pretty bad bronchitis that could turn into something worse if we don’t treat it immediately.
Treatment: NO NURSERY (actually the Doc recommended no nursery around here until 2 years old), no open windows (the air is too humid, so airco at 25¬ļc), advil/tylenol/lukewarm baths to control fever, some stuff to allow all the shit in her lungs to get away and an antibiotic because there are early signs of bacterial infection.
Fortunately we have Maria, a nicaraguan (legal) immigrant that we hired to help us with cleaning, cooking and taking care of Leia. She was recommended by a friend’s friend and so far we are very happy with her: pro-active, cleaning maniac and super sweet with Leia, who is still getting used to not having Luc√≠a around (the brazilian nanny we had in Barcelona) but already has a lot of fun playing peek-a-boo with her.

Looks like our search for furniture will have to wait – living in an empty apartment is not fun (we don’t even have chairs to sit and eat – that should be arriving tomorrow) but our little princess comes first.

First night in our new apartment… finally!

After a week waiting for painters that are a disaster and an electrician that never showed up (although he would swear to god that he was on his way when you called him), we finally moved in our new apartment in Ocean Two tower at Costa del Este. The flat is empty: no furniture but the king bed we bought last week. The guys who war supposed to assemble it… guess what? Didn’t show up! Service in Panama has definitely a long way to go… After I finished assembling the bed by 8pm yesterday, we finally could get some rest. The best thing about being on the 32nd floor is… that mosquitoes don’t fly that high ūüôā For the first time since we arrived in Panama, we were able to sleep with windows wide open and no air conditioning (we all have a cold since last week. Leia has already seen the paediatrician twice). The temperature at night is a warm but comfortable 23¬įC and the air blows from the mountains (actually from the caribbean sea) to the (pacific) ocean. And we can hear the night concert from the local fauna and insects living in the mangrove park in front of the building. Here are the nice views from our room at 8:30am (at low tide… there is up to a 7 meter sea level difference between tides – it must have been a hell of a challenge when the canal was built over a 100 years ago…)

Driving in Panama and local time elasticity…

During the first week here we hired a driver to go around. Now that we know a little bit the city (and bought a local sim card to have Google Maps and Waze up and running on my smartphone…), we rented a car and started driving around by ourselves.
I have driven in countries such as Belgium or Germany, ¬†where people are disciplined, courteous and traffic signs are clear and always where they should be, to more crazy or aggressive places such as Lyon and Marseille in France (where someone granting you your way is unheard of) or Morocco (where I was literally bumped and then pushed by the car behind me not to give way on my way out of the airport parking lot – it was a nice start). Some places are even so empty (i.e. Namibia) that it doesn’t matter you drive for hours on the wrong side of the road (they drive on the left side like in England…) because for hours you won’t cross any other car.
But I still haven’t seen nothing like Panama.

Traffic signs here are almost inexistent (and if there are any, I guess drivers consider them as elements of urban decoration). Many crossings in have no traffic lights or roundabouts (where common sense dictates there should be one). If there are traffic lights, it doesn’t matter – many drivers just do not respect them (and here’s the funny thing: sometimes even if the traffic light is green, sometimes people do not move! It’s more important to finish that phone conversation…). Taxis can go from 80km/h to a full stop in order to pick up someone even in a highway. Same for buses (there are few marked bus stops). Roundabouts have no clear priority rules unless it’s a huge truck or a bus (you don’t want to find out you didn’t have priority so you just let go).
There are lots of buildings under construction, so many already too narrow two lane streets become one lane streets, which, combined with “I don’t care I will block a crossing” panamenian drivers attitude makes traffic jams (a.k.a. “el tranque”) ubiquitous during rush hours (from 8 to 11 and from 15 to 19 +/-), even though Panama city is actually a relatively small city. A drive that could last less than 10 minutes with normal traffic may turn into a 1h30 journey quite easily. Here’s where the smartphone WAZE app really brings value to a driver: it takes into account real and live data on traffic speeds of its users, accidents and police controls (also courtesy of free crowd-sourcing) and different routes and suggests sometimes intricate itineraries – it actually works wonderfully here!…

… if you know how to tell it where to go. Here’s another local idiosyncrasy: addresses in the world usually include a street and a number. Some countries tweak it and make it even easier to find like having all streets organized as a grid and naming them in alphabetical order or with numbers, and then numbering according to avenue and street crossing (“3205, M street” in Washington DC is located near the crossing of M Street and 32nd street – and it’s the third house on the odd side of the street). In Guatemala, neighbourhoods are called “zonas” and are numbered. Within each neighbourhood streets run vertically and avenues horizontally and are numbered sequentially. The house number is actually the distance measured in meters from the street/avenue crossing so addresses always mention a crossing of street and avenue. In Brasilia everything is very logical but addresses look like a military code (SHIS QI2 C4B = Setor de Habita√ß√Ķes Individuais Sul, Quadra Interna 2, casa 4, porta B).

Forget about all those rational schemes for address definition. This is for boring, non-social people. Panama is more humanistic: there’s only an indication of the street name, eventually the closest crossing and… the name of the building/tower, or an indication to some point of reference such as “in front of Papa John’s pizzeria” or “next to the Arrocha pharmacy”. No numbers, no ZIP codes. What for anyway? With the information you have at hand you are able to triangulate on google maps / waze and then start asking when you get close… Surprisingly, you end up finding places pretty quickly after you get used to it!

With so much traffic jams, it is considered very acceptable by locals to arrive late. But actually people don’t come late because they are in a traffic jam. They come late because they first do everything they need to do close to where they are before they move to close to where you are. It doesn’t matter you agreed to meet at a specific time (to be fair, this does not apply to business meetings… as far as I know so far). We agreed to have our bed delivered at 9am last friday (first delivery in the morning should be on time I guessed…). The delivery guy called me at 11am to tell me that he was “about to” arrive. He actually arrived at 3pm. Fortunately we’re already getting used to not getting sucked into the local time elasticity vortex, so we just kept on shopping nearby for all the stuff we needed and got home to open the door when the delivery guy called saying that he was ringing the door bell and no one answered. Hey, better him waiting 15 minutes than us waiting 6 hours right?

Expat social life in Panama

Expats make a significant segment of people living in Panam√°. Multinationals like Procter & Gamble or Philips have regional offices here, but there are also a lot of construction companies building up the country’s canal, bridges over it and its skyscrapers. There are lots of brazilian engineers from Constructora Norberto Odebrecht, french engineers from Vinci or spaniards from Sacyr or FCC.

Last friday we watched the France-Germany FIFA worldcup match at “Le Petit Paris” with the mexican wives of some french engineers from Vinci working on a bridge construction project near Col√≥n. As one would expect, delicious croissants, tartines, quiches and other french pastries. Unfortunately France lost to Germany… In the afternoon we went to watch the Brazil-Colombia match at R√©mi and Ana’s, friends of friends of friends that were introduced to us by email. R√©mi’s is the son of a flemish who worked in France and got the US citizenship (or something like that…) and married Ana Cecilia who is a Brazilian born in Per√ļ. We also met some brazilians working at Procter & Gamble but also other “products of genetic globalization” such as a franco-spaniard married to a sri-lankan refugee family who settled in France, a norwegian-chilean girl married to a french guy… Suddenly I feel like a fish in the water :p The Brazilian victory was followed by a traditional brazilian style barbecue orchestrated by R√©mi (with caipirinhas, picanha and ling√ľi√ßa…).