Monday, July 27, 2009

Adventures Out Of Zona Sul

As you can tell from my lack of blogging, I've been pretty busy. We've started (and are actually almost done with) our intensive Portuguese classes, and I even have been doing a little bit of homework. In July! What?!

However, I have also had plenty of time for exploration. On Saturday, since the forecast was rainy, my friend Sarah and I decided to go to a museum. We visited the Fort of Copacabana and the Military History Museum next door. The fort is located on the strip of land that juts out in between Copacabana and Ipanema, and is practically next door to me (which will be helpful,
I guess, in case we ever get attacked). Walking out to see the cannons gave us a great view of Copacabana beach. Here's a photo of just a small section of the beach (my apartment building is to the left, just out of the shot) and of the favela that climbs the hill behind it. 

After checking out the enormous, rather new-fangled cannons on top of the fort, we went in to the museum to see if we could find out what they could have ever possibly been used for. Seems to us that the only time the fort was really attacked was by a small group of rebels from within the military. I actually don't understand why more people haven't attacked, since it's a pretty nice area -- I'd certainly want to conquer it if I had an army of my own.

After a trek through several centuries worth of military dioramas, we headed off to a lunch that an Ultimate Frisbee player Sarah knew had invited us to. I tagged along so she wouldn't have to go alone, though I had no idea where we were going, what we were doing, or who we were going to be dining with. Luckily Sarah knew, right? Wrong. 

After using all forms of transportation available to us (walking, bus, metro, taxi), we found ourselves at the Frisbee player's aunt's house in the middle of some Zona Norte neighborhood neither of us had ever heard of. Well, if we knew where we were, we wouldn't have heard of it. The lunch, which had originally been scheduled for 1, was in fact not so much of a lunch as an all-day party. We stood around talking to the Frisbee player and his aunt, as some other people came around with plates of meat that we grabbed at with our hands. There was also a big cake which we didn't get to try, since we made up an excuse to get out of there before it got dark (which happens around 5:30, since it's the middle of winter). Our host and his party were slightly sketchy, all in all, but I enjoyed talking to his aunt, and not just because she stuffed our bags with candy before we left.

We made it back to Zona Sul and were incredibly relieved to step out of the metro station onto the now dark streets of Copacabana. It was nice to realize how much this place now feels like home, and how comfortable I am here (especially compared to parts of Rio that we literally found were off the map when we tried to show our friends where we had been).

After another epic adventure -- this time, the opening of a single bottle of wine, requiring four Americans, two knives, two forks, a long-handled spoon, a nail, a pot, a Nalgene bottle, and a sieve -- I was about ready for a calm, leisurely night. That is, until Sarah and her roommate Jessica's host mom arrived to give us a lecture on taking advantage of being young and in Brazil. Though we had a field trip the next morning for which we had to be at school at 7 am, she urged us to stay out until 4 -- we only need two hours of sleep, right? I decided that though she looks like she's late-middle aged, she must be actually younger than me; after all, she can dance hip-hop. 

So I didn't make it to 4, but I still didn't get enough sleep to allow me to wake up comfortably and happily at 5:45 the next morning. However, I did see the sun rise over the beach as I walked to the bus stop, which gave me motivation to stay up until then some other Friday or Saturday night. And when I got to school, I watched the clouds change color over the Cristo, which was pretty cool (it looks pretty small in this picture, but it's bigger in person -- though I haven't made it to the top yet). 

Sunday was a field trip to the imperial city of Petrópolis, which my little brother will be happy to learn means "city of Peter." It was named after Dom Pedro II, the second (and last) emperor of Brazil, who summered there to escape the heat of Rio. Apparently, where the city is located up in the mountains (just an hour or so from Rio), the temperature can almost reach freezing point in the winter. I'm not sure that I completely believe that, since it seemed like t-shirt weather to me, but for Cariocas, it seems like anything below 70 degrees is pretty darn cold.

Anyway, in Petrópolis we visited a "Crystal Palace," which looked kind of like a greenhouse; a nice cathedral; the house of Santos Dumont, who in this country is considered the inventor of the airplane; an all-you-can-eat restaurant, which are quickly becoming my favorite; and the Imperial Palace. The Imperial Palace was the best museum ever, since immediately upon entering you are given slipper-sandals which you slip over your shoes and which allow you to skate across the shiny wood floors. Pretty fun. 

Then, while we waited outside the museum, a band in kilts and those furry hats that British people wear (I know, that is a completely false generalization) marched up the hill. You never know what you're going to see in this country.

On the drive back down to Rio, the mountains seemed to be strange sea creatures swimming through a deep pool of mist.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Flamengo v. Botafogo, July 19

Well, I feel more like a Carioca now -- I went to my first futebol game. And survived.

At first I was a little hesitant, since I knew I would have to keep this rite of passage as secret as possible. You see, my host mother is a Fluminense fan. And I would be going to watch Flamengo, their arch-rival.

The best comparison I can think of is Red Sox v. Yankees. You couldn't pay me to be a Yankees fan. And I told my host mother that as long as I was living in her house, I would be a Fluminense fan. One night over dinner she went on and on, describing how Flamengo players are sore losers, how they are all hot-shots who don't play as a team, anything and everything that made me begin to detest Flamengo as much as the Yankees. So how could I betray her so early in our relationship?

Well, I was excited to go to Marancanã, the biggest stadium in South America. And Sunday's game promised to be a good one, since both Flamengo and Botafogo are teams from Rio, which mean that both fan-bases would be out to cheer on their team. So Sunday afternoon, while my host mother was gone, I sneaked out of the apartment.

I will definitely say it was worth it (though I may change my mind if Gloria kicks me out of the house). We chose to sit in the upper levels, where the hard-core fans sit, and on each of our seats was a red flag that we waved in time with the chants (which I never quite mastered). 

I won't give the play-by-play, but the score was 1-2, with Botafogo ahead, with only a few minutes left in the game (weirdly enough, there wasn't a clock in the whole stadium). By this time, I was cheering intensely for Flamengo (shhhhh.....). I had finished my cachorro quente (a very literal translation of "hot dog," which comes in a sealed plastic bag -- not bad, though). I was singing the one chant I had figured out (Fla! men! go!). And suddenly, Flamengo scored to tie up the game. 

The crowd went wild. We might actually win! But just as suddenly, and without any warning, the game was over. It was a tie, and it was time to leave. And this is where things got even more exciting.

As we went to leave the stadium, we were prevented from going out the exit which was nearest to us. That was an exit for Botafogo fans. See, they have to designate specific entrances/exits for each team's fans, so they don't kill each other. As we made our way around the stadium, many people took off or covered up their jerseys so no one would know which team they were for.

We were making our way all the way around the corridor that runs around the stadium, trying to find the exit, when suddenly the crowd we were a part of turned around and started sprinting in the opposite direction. Caught in the stampede, I turned to run as well and followed several of my friends a few yards backwards and then off to the side. Everyone stood still for a minute, trying to figure out what had happened, but soon we were back on our way. I never learned what the big scare was, only that it would be pretty easy to be trampled to death and that I hope that's not how I die.

Finally having exited the stadium, we walked along the sidewalk toward the Metro. We walked without incident for a little while, when again the crowd started moving against us. This time there were a lot fewer people, and they walked calmly. We walked a few more steps before finding out from a passerby that there had been gunshots just around the bend. We watched as the police arrived, and then kept on our way.

So, I survived my first futebol game. And enjoyed it immensely -- the extra excitement after the game was over was just a perk. However, I'm still in a huge philosophical conundrum. Which team shall I support?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bruxos vs. Trouxas: Watching Harry Potter in Brazil

It's beginning to feel like a tradition: watching Harry Potter movies in foreign countries. Actually, it's only happened twice, once here and once in France, but it's a bizarre (and exciting) enough experience to leave quite an impression.

I was in France when the fourth movie came out. That's the one where different wizarding schools -- including a French one -- come to Hogwarts for the Triwizard Tournament. In the version of the movie dubbed in French, the students at the French school don't have French accents. Or rather, all of the witches and wizards have French accents, even Harry, since they're all speaking French. 

Also -- I still get a kick out of this -- in French they call wands "baguettes"! It really threw me at first when someone told Harry not to forget to bring his baguette. I mean, I know the French are obsessed with their bread, but would they really go so far as to work it into this British story? Then I figured it out, and felt just a little bit stupid.

So I found that watching Harry Potter dubbed over in French was not the most authentic experience. When I realized that I would be in Brazil for the opening of the sixth movie, I knew I wanted to watch it with subtitles. I also wanted to watch it at midnight (if only to watch it at least one hour ahead of everyone in the United States). However, the movie theater near my apartment did not have a showing that fulfilled both criteria, and I didn't want to be a long bus ride from home at 2:30 in the morning, so I settled for waiting 19 hours after it officially opened.

I went to buy tickets the day before with several friends, and we discovered that though there were about a dozen tickets left, they were all in the front row. Apparently this movie theater has assigned seating. Though we worried about neck pain, we decided it was worth it.

I wasn't yet sure how Brazil felt about Harry Potter (despite the sold-out theater). Then I sat down at 7 pm yesterday and the noise began. The teenagers in the theater screamed like crazy for every character when he or she appeared on screen for the first time. I guess they were all reading the subtitles so they didn't have to worry about missing any of the lines. Ron -- aka Rony here in Brazil -- seemed to be the fan favorite, followed closely by Draco Malfoy ("EU TE AMO, DRACO!!" yelled the girl directly behind me). 

While I luckily could understand the words as the actors spoke them (well, when I could hear them through the screaming), I looked down at the subtitles occasionally to see what bizarre translations the Brazilians had come up with. Quidditch became Quadribol -- not half as cool. Muggles became Trouxas, which is actually a real word in Portuguese, meaning (according to my dictionary) someone who is gullible, a sucker. An idiot. I thought that was a little blunt. Not all Muggles are stupid -- we're just... Muggles. 

The word for wand in Portuguese is not nearly so misleading as it is in French, but they did seem to change a lot proper nouns in the Brazilian version. Brazilians just find it impossible to pronounces words that end in most consonant sounds (hence lapee-topee, webee-sitee, etc. -- and apparently "Rony").

All in all, it was a great experience. I no longer have any doubt that Brazilians are into Harry Potter (though perhaps not all of them -- my host mother didn't have any idea what I was talking about until I told her, "You know, the kids who do magic"). And now I have some essential vocabulary to add to my list of Portuguese words.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Você fala português?

As I spread the news about my departure for Brazil over the past few months, the question I was most often asked was this: Do you speak Portuguese? And I probably gave a different answer every time.

Sure, I speak Portuguese -- I took it for three semesters. But that doesn't mean I speak it well. In fact, now that I'm actually in Brazil, I feel that I speak it more poorly than I did in the classroom. I don't think I've once used the subjunctive during my week here. And the future and conditional tenses don't get much use either.

I told myself that what was more important than grammar (sorry, Mom) was an effort towards communication. So I've been making an effort to talk to my host mom, tell her stories and ask her questions, even if my Portuguese isn't all that comprehensible all the time.

For example, in Portuguese questions are usually asked with a simple inflection -- when written, they look just like statements with a question mark. So sometimes when I'm stumbling over the nasally sounds of the words, my voice doesn't manage to pull off a proper inflection, and my host mom thinks I'm merely pointing something out, so I don't get the answer I'm looking for. 

Other times I throw in a French word here and there (with a Brazilian accent) without noticing and wonder why my host mother is confused. In my head, French and Portuguese mix to form a strange and incomprehensible language. For example, I thought to myself just a few minutes ago, "Tenho mal au ventre" -- "I have a stomachache," half in Portuguese, half in French (my host mother told me I looked thinner yesterday so I ate a lot this afternoon to make up for it). Sounds perfectly good to me but if I said it out loud no one would have any idea what I'm talking about. 

The intensive Portuguese classes that I will be taking for the next few weeks start on Wednesday, so hopefully that will help me straighten myself out. In the meantime, I'm working on a list of words that I've learned since I got here -- mostly vegetables, since my host mother is obsessed with them. And perhaps I'll make an effort to use the subjunctive every once in a while, thought it's been kind of nice making statements without any sense of doubt.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How Not To Be A Gringo

This past week, I went on a trip with my program to Paraty, a small historical town about four hours south of Rio de Janeiro (as you can see from the map, we didn't even get very far -- Brazil is an enormous country). The drive there was almost as interesting as the time spent in Paraty. The first hour or so was spent just getting out of the city -- favela after favela, horse-drawn carts on the highway, buildings in various states of construction and decay. It still amazes me how many people live in this city; it's by far the biggest place I've ever lived.

Finally we made it out to the coast again and it was as if we had entered paradise. Each beach
town we passed, nestled between rolling green mountains, seemed more beautiful than the last. I took some pictures from the bus which, though they are of bad quality, give a good idea of what the scenery looked like for several straight hours.  

Paraty was historically an important port, first for the gold
trade, then for slaves, and finally for coffee. Cachaça, Brazil's famous sugar-cane distilled alcohol, has been an important export throughout that evolution. In fact, we visited a distillery outside the town and got to see both the stalks of sugar cane and the final result in bottles (which we also got to taste). 

One of my favorite things about Brazil so far is the amount of places that sell food by weight -- even ice cream! One day in Paraty I had a large serving of ice cream (four different flavors, since you scoop them yourself) after lunch and then a smaller serving of fruit sorbets after dinner. I'm looking forward to starting a similar ice cream shop at home. 

The town was beautiful (white houses with brightly colored trim) but we also spent a lot of time exploring the bay and the islands in it. We spent a whole day on a boat, stopping at beaches, swimming with fish, and eating lunch on an island. The next day we slid down a natural waterslide made of rock and
then took another boat to yet another island for more fresh fish. None of us could believe that this was a program actually sponsored by our school -- and that we are getting credit for doing this (among other things, of course... eventually).

I am already loving Brazil very much, and I kind of never want to leave. However, I haven't quite mastered the art of fitting in with the Brazilians yet (and my slowly-improving Portuguese isn't helping much). However, our tour guide in Paraty gave us all a leg up with a lesson on how not to be a gringo when going to the beach. Apparently, Brazilians don't bring towels, water, or books (all things I had been planning on bringing) to the beach. After having been to the beach several times, I'm not quite sure yet what you are supposed to do without any of these items -- besides drink beer, of course.

However, so far I have succeeded at one very important thing: I haven't gotten sunburned. I had to lather myself with sunscreen like a gringo to do so, though.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Making Friends With Doormen

I left off my last post with my arrival in Rio de Janeiro. It's now about 36 hours later, and so much has happened that I can't even begin to describe it all. And I don't want to subject you all to a minute-by-minute account of the past two days. But I will write a little about where I'm living and what I've seen so far.

We were instructed not under any circumstances to leave the airport without a program representative, so after waiting for our baggage (there were five of us on the same plane) which passed by on the slowest conveyor belt any of us had ever seen, we were glad to find someone already waiting for us. A driver was there to drive us to our host families, and since I was closest to the airport, I was dropped off first. The only problem: it was not the right apartment building. When I told the doorman that I was looking for apartment 709, he told me that that didn't exist in that building. There was no 7th floor. I tried to remember what the correct address was, and the doorman suggested that I leave my big bags in the entryway with him and go check out another apartment building across the street.

Luckily enough, that was the one. I went back to get my luggage from the first doorman, who was very nice and as helpful as he could be in the situation, and dragged it across the street where that doorman called up to my host mother. By the time I dragged all my stuff to the seventh floor (on the elevator, of course), I was sweating buckets. Gloria, my host mother, answered the door in her bathrobe -- she had thought I was arriving in the evening. But luckily she is very nice and wasn't too unprepared.

Gloria is divorced, with no children, and she gets lonely living alone so she rents out her extra room to people like me. While we had a delicious lunch of vegetables, rice, and beans she taught me what each vegetable was called in Portuguese (I found out quickly I don't have a very large vocabulary of words like that) and I told her what several were in English. One struck her as very funny: batata is Portuguese for potato, which sounds slightly similar to the word for doorman in Portuguese (porteiro). She decided that she was going to start calling all of the doormen in our building "batata" -- and there are twelve of them, apparently. I tried to convince her that "potato" isn't actually all that similar to "porteiro," but she didn't fall for it. 

So when we left to go to the Hippy Fair, she announced to Jorge his new nickname. And when we came back, Daniel had taken his place, and she told him the same thing. I'm sure the doormen love me right now.

The Hippy Fair is a an outdoor market that takes place just a ten-minute walk from my apartment every Sunday in Ipanema. I'm living in Copacabana, near the border with Ipanema. I can see the ocean from my bedroom window, and the beach is just a block away. Yesterday night Gloria and I watched fireworks over the beach from the window. It's a really great place to live, cheaper than other neighborhoods in Rio, with a lot to do and of course a fantastic beach. Plus, about half the students in my program live in Copacabana.

Today we took a tour of Rio, through many different neighborhoods, and ended with a delicious dinner. I don't think I had realized exactly how enormous the city is -- hopefully I will be able to see a lot of it during the next six months. There are definitely a lot of beaches to go to! And the great thing is, it's the dead of winter right now (i.e. only in the 70s). It's only going to get warmer, so I can do things outside the whole time I'm here. There is already so much I want to go and explore. Plus, even at this time of year, the water is much warmer than it ever gets in Maine. 

I officially ended my vegetarianism this evening with some nice steak and sausage, and I have to say it was delicious.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Awkward Morning After... Or, Why I Am Only Flying First Class From Now On.

Yesterday morning, approximately twenty-four hours before I landed in Rio de Janeiro, I left my house. My whole family drove me to the airport, and while I was worried that getting there only an hour and a half early wouldn't leave me enough time, those fears immediately disappeared when I saw that there were eight people in the security line when we arrived. And not a single person in the check-in line. So no, I didn't miss my flight, but as soon as I got on my plane I realized there was an even bigger problem: I just might die aboard it. 

I boarded the plane only to find out that it was probably the smallest and oldest one I had ever been on. Even with just one seat on the left and two on the right, fewer than half of the total seats were filled. I found mine easily and immediately pulled out the safety instructions, since I was worried I would need them. That document told me that the plane I was on was an Embraer 135, and that the final assembly of this aircraft was completed in Brazil. I couldn't decide whether that was a good or a bad omen.

So picture this, the auspicious start to my journey: I'm in row 5, and I can hear everything that's going on up front. Everyone's on the plane but the cockpit is still open when I hear a man's voice: "I've never done this kind of plane before." Please don't let that be the pilot, I think. Luckily it's not; I am pleased to realize that it's just an airport employee on the breezeway wondering about paperwork.

A few minutes later, everyone is buckled in and the flight attendant (singular) is walking back and forth down the aisle taking notes. The woman across from me suddenly decides that she wants to move up two rows. "Sorry, ma'am" -- the flight attendant sends her back -- "I've already done the weights analysis." Um, excuse me? I have several problems with this. First of all, I'm sitting in the aisle seat but since there's no one next to me I was planning on moving over to look out the window. I guess I won't be risking that now. But my second problem is this: what if I need to get up to go to the bathroom during the flight? I don't want the loss of my weight to cause us to crash -- while I'm still locked in with the toilet. Lastly, what did she do -- estimate everyone's weight as we walked on? But what about our carry-ons? She has no idea how much my Portuguese dictionary or my Portuguese verb book weighs. Or maybe there was a secret scale we walked over while entering the plane. I would have loved to steal a glance at the flight attendant's notebook to see what kind of calculations she used for this "weights analysis."

Just before the plane takes off, the pilot announces not "Flight attendants, please prepare for departure," but simply "Phyllis, please prepare...." This is actually kind of cozy after all.

So obviously I made it to New York alive. When I arrived, I quickly found my gate (though after making my way through a long winding maze of temporary hallways across the tarmac), and lo and behold, one of my classmates from my Portuguese class was sitting there already. I was glad to find a travel partner since I still had a long journey ahead of me.

The flight from New York to Atlanta was quite uneventful, as was the five-hour layover in New York. Nick and I got to the gate before the plane that was leaving from there before ours had even boarded, so we just found an empty corner to settle in. None of the dozen or so TVs listing the departures even had our flight yet. So we waited. And waited. And ate. And wandered around a little. And waited.

By the time our departure time was nearing, our gate had been moved to the other side of the terminal -- which gave us another way to kill time. By the time I boarded the plane, it was over 12 hours since I had left my house. And I still was only in Atlanta.

The taxi toward take-off was promising. Out the window, we could see fireworks -- and I had thought that I would be missing them this year. The nice Brazilian man next to taught me how to say fireworks in Portuguese. Once we were in the air, we flew over several other fireworks shows -- a perfectly fitting last memory of America for the six months I'll be away.

However, things started going downhill from there. The talkative eight-year-old girl in front of me said to her father, "Let's play a game, Dad. It's called Sky Mall." You can imagine how painful that was to listen to. I couldn't be too mad, however, since I am sure I have played similarly obnoxious games before. Just perhaps not as loudly.

I couldn't really forgive her, however, for reclining her seat and leaving my legs awkwardly splayed to the side. She wasn't even sleeping! She just kept talking. When I tried to rest my knees against the back of her seat, her bouncing almost dislocated my knee cap.

But eventually I settled into a slightly comfortable position and closed my eyes, deciding to forgo watching "Seventeen Again." However, every time I started to fall asleep I was jolted awake when I felt the man beside me tap me on the leg or shoulder. I would lift my eye mask each time and see that he was actually asleep. And that was when things started getting really bad.

For the next several hours, the man fell asleep on my shoulder and spent the whole night caressing it. Like, literally caressing my shoulder and arm. Very gently and lovingly. He would occasionally wake up suddenly and apologize profusely and turn away, but within just a few minutes he would be at my side again. It definitely ranks up there as one of the most awkward experiences of my life. 

Eventually I gave up even trying to sleep and just played Solitaire on my iPod, staying as close to the wall as I could. Out of my window I could see what I assume was the Amazon rainforest, stretching out in the darkness as far as I could see. The perfectly full moon reflected orange on some body of water below. The sky was black except for the occasional shooting star. I was finally in (well, above) Brazil, and it felt incredibly surreal.

After several more apologies from the Brazilian man, he managed to stay on his side of the arm rest and I managed to get an hour or two of sleep. However, soon it was light again and we both woke up to an intense awkwardness as the plane descended into Rio and we ate breakfast next to one another. I didn't know what to say to him -- should I acknowledge all that transpired between us in the night? Or should I just pretend it was all a dream? Luckily I didn't have to choose -- he complimented me on my very soft and comfortable shoulder.

I decided right then that from now on I want one of those bed-like chairs in first class every time I fly overseas. However, my experiences with Brazilian men can only get better, right?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July... I'm leaving the country

Well, I'm off to Brazil in just a few hours. After leaving Portland International Jetport at 11:05 am, I'll arrive at Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (cooler -- and more accurate -- name) at approximately 8:19 am on Sunday. It will be a long two days, with layovers in both New York and Atlanta, but hopefully the Brazilian sun will be well worth the journey.

Did you know that Atlanta is only about 150 miles closer to Rio de Janeiro than Portland? And it's about 1000 miles from Portland to Atlanta. So I am taking two flights and spending over 10 hours just to go a tiny fraction of the way to my destination. If only the Portland International Jetport lived up to its name and actually had international flights....

If you find it slightly ironic but also slightly fitting that I am leaving my family, my friends, and my country for almost six months on Independence Day, don't tell me -- you have no idea how many people have already made that joke. But it's true, I will be exchanging fireworks for Seventeen Again (with Zac Efron) and Escape to Witch Mountain (never even heard of it), and hot dogs and hamburgers for airplane peanuts and a big box of Mike and Ike's. However, rain is in the forecast tomorrow for Maine (as it has been for the past month), so I'm sure I won't be missing much.

If you've read this far and are still wondering what I'll be doing in Brazil, here's the deal: For the first few weeks, I'll be taking some intensive Portuguese classes and learning more about Brazil. After that, I'll be enrolling in classes at PUC-Rio, the Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro. I'm hoping to learn about Brazilian culture and literature, as well as public health in Brazil (both because I know it will be fascinating and because I kind of need to graduate). I know I'll be living with a host family in Copacabana (just one block from the beach!).

And that's pretty much all I know. I'll report back, though -- that's what this blog is here for. I decided it would be more efficient than postcards or mass e-mails or even Twitter (random great quote about Twitter I read today: "Nobody expects to learn anything significant from a tweet, and nobody does. The point is just to create the frantic sense that something is happening."). However, if even this blog isn't significant or intimate enough for you, I will also be available on Facebook (obviously), on email and gchat (, and on Skype (louisahsmith). Or any other modes of communication you may think of.

I hope you continue to follow my blog, and I'll see you from the southern hemisphere!

P.S. I'm still looking for a catchy title for this blog. Suggestions?