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Martha

Mule bonitu para sempri

Mule bonitu para sempri. This phrase has been formed from the few words I salvaged online that come from an endangered language called the Kristang, the Portuguese Creole of Malacca. Translated, it simply means beautiful woman, forever. This phrase, of truth and not mere flattery, encapsulates the essence of our Martha, a genetically clever concoction of an Asian Creole who captures our hearts with her graceful presence. Mom-communion_2A mixed blood beauty born in Singapore, Martha descends from a rich Asian heritage of acculturation and migration, of intermarriages and the interweaving of cultures. Classified as Eurasian, she is an authentic Asian fusion of East meets West. Official documents reveal her immediate family links to Rodrigues, Dias and Dialchand, confirming her legacy that blends three cultures – the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Indian. She is Eurasian of European and Asian descent, a simple definition that serves the purpose of a casual introduction. Her unwavering resolve to maintain a fluent articulation of a colonial British English, native to the Eurasians of Singapore, provokes puzzled inquisition in the outbacks of the U.S.A. Her eloquence of a colonial British in the midst of Americanisms transforms her into quite a mystery in the West. She holds the locks to the many secrets of a life story that feeds wisdom to her soul. The only story we can tell today is one of heritage and personal recollections, written with pride, admiration and love.

Bringing her legacy to life

martha 1_0001

Tracing back to her Eurasian beginnings, she’s very likely a descendent of the Europeans who traveled to Asia between the 16th and 18th Century, during the colonial eras of the Portuguese, Dutch and British. The Portuguese were among the earliest Europeans to arrive, reaching India in 1505 and Malacca in 1511, followed by the Dutch and British in the years after. Encouraged to interact with local populations, the Portuguese tended to marry local women and their children became the Eurasians who settled in India, Malacca and Macau. The Dutch settled in Malacca, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) as well as British colonies in Penang, India and Bencoolen (now the Indonesian city of Bengkulu). Unlike the Portuguese, the Dutch and other European settlers did not share the same way of life. Very few intermarried with locals, most staying in the East purely for fixed term work. Mom-communion_1   Many of the Eurasians of a mixed European and Asian heritage later settled in Singapore at different times, the first arriving in 1821. Very likely a descendent of those migrants derived from the written records of her birthright, Martha was the Eurasian result of a unique mix of Portuguese, Dutch, Indian and possibly more. The traditions and customs that she practiced leaned towards those of the Portuguese. While the English language was her native, she spoke some Portuguese Creole, notably Kristang, which is a dialect developed from the blend of Malacca Malay and Portuguese. She perfected the culinary skills of a Eurasian Portuguese, cooking an array of foods including the Curry Devil or Curry Debal (‘Debal’ meaning ‘leftovers’ in the Kristang language), a spicy meat stew flavoured with candlenuts, galangal and vinegar. She mastered the traditions of the Eurasians and then moved on to embrace the traditions of others.

A Beautiful lady, full of grace

Her authentic20140614_080247-1 beauty outshines the perfect aesthetic blend of intercultural features. Being Martha is all she’s ever been. While she’s adopted the fashionable trends of her surroundings, trading in heels and Channel No. 5 for leather chaps and a Harley, she shares her truth with others, her authentic self.

martha 1_0005

With untiring courage and head held high, she’s ventured into the unknown. She’s transformed the impossible into the possible, finishing anything she touches with golden perfection. She learned Teochew (a Chinese dialect) to converse with her in-laws, Cantonese to converse with her friends. She became a culinary sensation in Southeast Asian cuisine and inspired others with her passion. With creative energy, she learned and taught various arts that include crochet and Ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arrangement). She led inspiring lectures while pioneering her practice in holistic health therapy. A larger than life personality, she enraptured her audience and earned their full presence. She has won over many fans from all walks of life through her charisma, charm and compassion towards the masses. IMGShe’s moved through the toughest of times with absolute grace. She always sees that the sun will shine again tomorrow and shares this faith with those who despair. Her willingness to forgive, an act difficult for many, is a quality most admired.     She’s kicked off the heels of the past and all that accompanies the energies of restless youth. She settles comfortably in her new beginnings in her natural state of grace.

She’s Martha, Queen of our hearts. 

Happy 70th, with love

Six months of silence – an inspirational pause while I tackle, at full-speed (well, to be fair, I threw in some relocation-vacation time), the current challenging job market in yet another new setting – London – where very few know me. I’ve landed in a rat race to survive, keyword searched and tossed, dazzled by the lack of human touch that accompanies today’s recruitment processes.

Fellow job seekers will know that for the most part, you’re not to expect any courtesy response let alone feedback from a recruiter if you’ve not been short-listed or picked for the second round of interviews. Overwhelmed by the high number of qualified candidates, I understand and reluctantly swallow this reality. When you receive an automated standard letter of rejection during the early hours of the morning on a holiday, an email stating “after careful consideration, we regret to inform you…” literally 2 minutes after you’ve applied, or an email addressed to “Dear Rio” (extracted from the city in which I’d recently resided – Rio de Janeiro), you realize you’ve been tossed out for the lack of a much needed keyword by a recruitment selection software programme – frustration and fury ruin the rest of your day.

Techno point taken – recruitment selection software don’t read between the lines. Further down the road, after many keyword attempts, you finally get invited to a face-to-face with a recruitment consultant. Then you’re challenged with the question on how you’d fit yourself in a box i.e. category (I’m still trying to get the hang of this exercise). So, I’ve now successfully moved up from a word to a box scenario and should be happy that I’m allowed an entire paragraph in full descriptive sentences and body language to accompany. But how do I fit experiences in different countries, various sectors and broad expertise in my field, in a box? The fact that I’ve managed a portfolio of PR, communications (internal, change, external, brand, CEO, you name it) and marketing (local, European, global, you name it), would make me well-rounded, wouldn’t it? I’d do anything I could possibly do to contribute to the big business goal for start-ups or medium-size corporate. Wouldn’t that make me a proactive, hands-on/can-do type of professional who is marketable? So why isn’t my phone ringing?

What have we come to, techno generation? Don’t get me wrong, I completely believe in the amazing potential of every single piece of technology that helps us communicate, research and learn – all for it! But I’m beginning to feel that our humanness is getting lost in the abyss of inundation and automation, leaving us job seekers with no choice but to beat ourselves up with self-critical feedback when the answer is ‘no’ followed by an automated reasoning ‘unfortunately, I have received applications from candidates whose experience more closely match my client’s specific requirements’, or when there’s simply no answer. I have no solution to this challenging problem, but to save my self-worth and to humour myself in these trying times, I’m going to delve between the lines of my mechanical key-worded CV to share the human ME.

My CV – the Profile

International, multilingual marketing and communications senior specialist with a balanced portfolio of start-up and corporate experience within Financial Services, Health Services and Technology. Strategic thinker and doer driven by ‘the bigger picture’ and the business goal, with high competence in managing sales, marketing, branding and communications projects that create unique impact at a global level. Strong influencing power and diplomatic disposition that engage, inspire and motivate customers, employees and senior level stakeholders. Thrive in the dynamics of change and innovation, new business development, high global growth, and business and cultural diversity.

ME – between the lines

I’ve lived in 8 countries on opposite sides of the hemisphere and the globe, most of the time of my own accord to experience something new while studying, working or simply living. I say international to mean someone who is not necessarily tied to one home country and who empathizes with people from different walks of life. With an ease and a love to learning something new, I’ve become quasi multilingual and culturally aware. I can happily say I’m confident in working cross-culturally.

I’m quite pleased to say balanced with a yogic nuance, by the insights gained within the adrenalin-driven hands-on start-up environment and the grown-up specialist -structured corporate environment. I wouldn’t claim that reflecting on successes and failures of daily doings and problem solving have made me an expert in either environment, however, the experiences combined have taught me important lessons. While not fully representative of all start-up work, in simple terms, my own experience nurtured entrepreneurial thinking, strategy, hands-on approach and can-do attitude to performing daily survival tactics that contribute to the bigger business goal. In simple terms, my corporate experience helped me refine my best talents and expertise while I performed larger-scale programmes in a specialist role. Corporate also taught me delegation, line reporting, process abiding and accountability while we worked cross-functionally and across an international, complex matrix to build reputation. In both scenarios, I performed with good gravitas – a trendy word in today’s role descriptions.

The fact that I’ve been a marketer/communicator in various sectors successfully including what I’d call ‘intellectual’ or ‘highly innovative’ products and services means that I’m quite fearless in learning new concepts. In my world as a marketer/ communicator/journalist, you don’t always need to be a niche expert but you do need to be clever and curious. I’ve never been one to limit myself to the safety net of a niche sector, and it’s perhaps because of this that I’ve exercised the mental ability to break down complex information into real-world interpretation, so that you and I will understand why Telemedicine is important in healthcare.

Doer is the word, as we can’t afford to be ‘thinking’ aimlessly these days. Perhaps because I’m a stubborn (determined is a better word for me), loyal (to my words) and hardworking Taurus, I do put strategies to practice when the light turns green.

So I’ve been told that I’d be good at sales. That’s neither unlikely nor far-fetched since I’ve managed to approach brands, products and companies with true passion and have sold them whole-heartedly through words and inspiring stories, and they’ve worked. Just like I’d inspire myself each day with a personal goal or a simple idea, I find a great sense of purpose in inspiring others with the positive aspects of the new – of change, transformation, new initiatives and vision. When I write, I do it with an air of grace that’s ingrained in my character, channeling stories through the mish-mash of much accepted media for my audience online, offlinesocial media, eventually engaging employees and customers in the stakeholders group.

Change is a word I simply love. Let’s face it – change in today’s fast evolving world is inevitable. Change, to me, means new adventures, opportunities and learning. It also means courage to adapt, face challenges head-on, find solutions quickly, and transform opportunities into success and positive stories. I’ve had many opportunities to reflect on change in my life as an explorer, which have heightened my creativity and got me thinking out-of-the-box.

My CV – the experience #1, chronologically

January 2010 to December 2011 – Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Communications Project Manager

Telemedicine Unit, UNIRIO and PUC Universities

(Social Sustainability Project – Health informatics, e-health/mobile health)

The pilot project objective is to provide health workers located in remote and traditional (indigenous) communities with the appropriate ICT tools (e.g. mobile devices) for real-time diagnosis, consultancy, data gathering and training.

Key responsibilities:

  • Content management for a Wiki intranet portal and social network tool for medical professionals, health workers, anthropologists and other interest groups
  • Grant proposals, reports and correspondences that communicate the objective, concept and vision of the project to appeal for international funding

ME – between the lines

What can I say? I’m hopelessly drawn to being at the forefront of making the world a better place. Here’s where I saw how technology could become positive play in providing people and communities detached, different and poor with better access to healthcare. Entrepreneurial perhaps, I’m gamed for sound innovative ideas that’s passionately explained and thus jumped on the wagon of a new opportunity to support a social entrepreneurial, dedicated doctor.

Curiosity and courage sums up my move. Rest assure, it wasn’t pure luck that brought me to this tropically fun-in-the-sun city but resourcefulnessrelationship building, vision and consequences of my own actions. What have I learned other than enhancing the daily professional skills? Plenty, in addition to Brazilian Portuguese, well enough to say I can get quite chatty in the language (fluent would be slightly overstating the truth); work culture, relationship building and the ins and outs of running a project in a new setting and in a language other than my native English.

My CV – the experience #2

March 2008 to November 2009 – Barcelona (Spain)

Communications Manager / Market and Business Development department

European Telemedicine Clinic

(Sub-specialist Teleradiology – Healthcare Services/Technology)

  • Marketing and corporate communications programmes for the company during its growth phase from entrepreneurial to corporate and its expansion into new markets
  • Go-To-Market strategies to support business development in the UK, Spain, Scandinavia
  • Global corporate/local campaign brand messaging; copywriting; production of website www.telemedicineclinic.com and other marketing collateral; digital media
  • Translation and adaptation of copy for diverse markets and audience
  • Advertising, press, PR, speaking opportunities at industry events and company participation in international competitions e.g. World Economic Forum Technology’s Pioneer Award 2009 (nominated to semi-finals)
  • Internal and CEO communications for a multinational and geographically dispersed team – audit, business culture, employee engagement, e-newsletters, town-hall meetings

NB: In 2002, worked with the founding team to define key messaging and concept that aligned with the strategic objectives and values of the start-up. Joined the company in 2008 to produce new marketing collateral, after it had successfully grown to become a medium-size company of 100+ employees.

ME – between the lines

The NB note informs that I had the privilege of participating at the ‘start up’ of this now successful company and that, by default, I’d adopted a founder’s emotional attachment to his business baby. I’d felt the energetic drive of supporting an entrepreneurial vision and heightened creativity in selling a brand new concept to the European healthcare market.

I was invited back to participate in their next phase of growth, and that was an honour. The absolute trust assigned to me to lead marketing as well as internal communications hitting the ground running gave me yet another chance to be the self-starter that I naturally enjoy being. Challenging as it was, I’d had the chance to be part of the growing pains of entrepreneurial adolescence as it approached corporate adulthood. An observant-participant who surveyed, interviewed, analyzed and brainstormed with the seniors, I made the best use of our resources to transform insights into activities and campaigns – change communications that helped us all cope with transformation.

My CV – the experience #3

June 2007 to February 2008 Barcelona (Spain)

Marketing & Communications Consultant – Freelance

  • Product launch (branding, marketing strategies, copywriting) – Smart Plastics – Barcelona
  • Book Editing (project resourcing, production) – University of Chicago EMBA yearbook
  • Business plan for non-profitInstitute of Culture Brazil Italy Europe– Bahia (Brazil)

ME – between the lines

I always say ‘Yes’ to interesting projects when I’m in between office jobs or taking a break. For the mechanical CV, freelancing fills in the gap so there’s little room for a questioned pause (in my case, I haven’t got raising a child as a plausible reason). The fact that I’ve been successfully freelancing during this time and once before, may show my credibility as a trustworthy and responsible project manager who’d delivered satisfactory results. I’d kept my clients happy; otherwise, I wouldn’t be listing them here.

My CV – the experience #4

April 2004 to May 2007 Barcelona (Spain)

Communications Specialist / Head of Marketing Department (Year 3)

HCC Global Financial Products (Insurance)
Underwriting agency specializing in Directors’ and Officers’ liability and key financial lines insurance. It is a subsidiary of HCC Insurance Holdings, Inc. (rated AA by S&P; NYSE)

  • Brand re-positioning/re-launch, key messaging for local markets, and copywriting
  • Comprehensive portfolio of marketing collateral: website www.hcc-global.com, brochure, product leaflets, sales presentations, corporate video – oversaw translation and adaptations into 5 additional languages
  • Project management – copywriting, resourcing, supervising production, on-time delivery
  • PR activities, events (e.g. Grand Prix), press relations and specialty journal articles
  • Managed marketing budget of Euros € 3 million
  • CEO, internal communication for a multinational team – audit, intranet, business culture
  • Management presentations, business plans and annual reinsurance reports
  • Customer value research for brand sustainability

ME – between the lines

I dived into insurance, a tad apprehensive about my ability to find passionate creativity in what I initially thought were bland products. It took very little time and convincing to cast new light on insurance after I managed to find the exciting essence of a suite of business risk cover, which made insurance, quite sexy.

Amateur to the world of business risk coverage and underwriting at the time, copywriting at first go hitting the ground running, as you can possibly imagine, was a challenge. The result, through teamwork and synergy of course, was commendable success. This experience was perhaps a defining light-bulb point in my career. I saw my strength in the quick ability to break down complex information into real-world concepts for the layman in me, and for others who may not truly know much about Directors’ and Officers’ insurance apart from what the name implies at face value. While I do admit self-sacrificing personal time as I nerdish-ly read about Financial Institutions Bond and Commercial Crime Insurance and lawsuits before bed (a show of good gravitas), I’d attribute the rest of my success to simply being clever and curious.

Well, that was quite a chunk of delirious writing. I suppose I’ve been re-inspired after a six-month pause in the job search abyss. I am pleased with my exercise, which keeps me happily sane as I trek on. I so look forward to that bit of luck that will get me past keyword selection and over to a face-to-face meet, where anyone interested may just find some things fascinating, reading between the lines of my CV.

My sanctuary at the end of Copacabana beach - Leme

Beautiful, it truly is. I’ve been here for the past two years, living in Babou’s Copacabana, the famous Rio de Janeiro beach, which you ironically never get to see in the French film titled Copacabana (2010), directed by Marc Fitoussi. Like Babou, I’d nourished my dream to live in Brazil by listening to Bossa Nova, Samba, MPB (Musica Popular Brasileiro), and folk music for years until I created the circumstances that brought me to my dream destination. While not explicitly projected in the film, I’d like to believe that Babou, with her untiring zest for life, also gets to realize her dream as she takes off on a bus full of Carnival dancers to her Brazil.

Living the reality of my dream

“I’m just a slippery Antevasin, betwixt and between, a student on the ever-shifting border near the wonderful, scary forest of the new.” – Elisabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray and Love

I’ve been the Antevasin, opening a new door to learning, friendship and faith in my new solitude. I didn’t choose to live at the edge of the forest with a spiritual master, as would the Antevasin of the Sanskrit – my bravery doesn’t extend to the physical unknown of living within the wild animal kingdom. Nor did I check myself into the spiritual silence of an Ashram – although I sometimes wondered if I should have retreated from the bustling noise of Rio. But I packed my bags full of clothes and an optimistic soul full of personal and professional goals, and headed out to live up a dream in the city of carnival and samba fun, also notoriously known for its violence.

Carnival, samba, beaches, outwardly friendly people in a city that’s charmingly rough around the edges dotted my life with bits of lighthearted fun. Settling into real life in my new solitude, new personal and social challenges…and well, limited finance, got me riding the waves of emotional highs and lows – what you’d expect from a jump into the unknown. The jump that I made this time came with a list of what I’d say are my rational or practical life goals, which remained buoyant as I struggled to find my footing in the “down under”, south of the equator.

Euphoria, frustration, delight, apprehension, relief and angst happened sometimes all in a day as I lived the beauty of the present, struggled to adapt to a new way of being, and attempted to find new ground professionally. What seemed like hormonal imbalance-type emotions – which funnily enough quite matched the undulating landscape of Rio – got me thinking about the possible settling in of mid-life crises or the unfortunate alignment of obnoxious planets in my astrological charts. Nonsense, of course -it wouldn’t be right to blame the planets.

With a few days left to my temporary stay visa, the bigger picture sets in to reveal the absurd magnitude of the expectations I had of myself in a brand new world spiked with its very own challenges. What was I to expect as I dropped in on a city that’s balancing on the border of chaos and order, wealth and poverty, the rustic and the modern.

For a Singaporean-born, American-educated, European, I didn’t know what hit me in the southern Latin Hemisphere when I’d get kicked back two steps for every three steps forward that I took to do just about anything daily (let alone plan for my future) in a politically, sociologically, bureaucratically different environment. I attempted to understand the city and its citizens in a socio-anthropological way but came to realize that it really isn’t that simple.

So, I let the undulations of Rio’s curves take me on an emotional journey of the highs, the lows and the puzzling as I single-handedly stepped up to courage, took a risk, adapted, survived, persisted, failed, and humbly learned some of my biggest lessons in life. Rio has not been all carnival, samba and fun to me, it has been more – as it has given me the chance to fully live the reality of my dream and learn.

Undulating sensations

The view of Rio from Niteroi is spectacular

While there’s much to tell, I’ve decided to keep this short with some personal impressions or observations that stuck, the very sensations that kept me on my feet in awe, in fear and in absolute delight.

Captivated by women at nail salons who candidly share, with their newfound brief acquaintances, their most intimate stories of love, passion and sex or the explicitly embarrassing details of a liposuction experience, making manicure dos such a sensational affair.

Nauseated by the wild bus rides of speed, fast curves and fast breaking with no rhythmic consistencies, which means you’ve literally got to hold on tight sitting and tighter standing up. While bracing yourself against possible injury, you remain wary about the boarding of a potential armed robber to rob or hijack.

Enraptured by the solidarity you find at a concert when everyone sings along to lyrics with such intense fervor. It is not politics or patriotism that unites the people – it is music.

Suspicious of the occasional assaulter on the streets, and to make things worse, of every round manhole that houses electricity or gas sources just after 23 manholes exploded in 2010 and 2011. Not only would we be watching our backs, we’d also be looking out for the suspicious fuming manhole, hopping over every one just to stay out of possible trouble.

Intrigued by the unreserved, natural Brazilian talent to strike a pose in front of the camera, particularly women who spontaneously pull out the perfect smile, sexy pose and an actor’s stance.

Perplexed by the conflicting feeling of sympathy and unease when a homeless man calls out “Tia, preste essa capa”, meaning “Aunty, give me that (fluorescent yellow) raincoat” that happens to be calling out for the attention of every homeless in the neighbourhood. Just for the record, it isn’t the wrinkles that’s got an older man calling me “aunty”…I happily discovered that they’d say that to any lady, young or older.

Tickled by how Brazilians call the strapless dress “Tomara que Caia”, which means “Hope it falls”, probably invented by some cheeky male.

Frustrated by the ever-so-often last minute cancellation or change of agenda for a casual social outing, when you’d been convinced of a promise behind a reassuring statement and a wholehearted nod to “yes, let’s go, I’ll give you a ring”.

Disconcerted when my senior lady friends insistently repeat “Se Deus quiser” (meaning “If God wills”) when I whip out “I’ll see you on Monday, when I get back from the trip.” OK, I do realize that there are certain things beyond our control in life, which I’m still trying to grasp…destiny, gods will. But really, I’d like to believe I’ll BE BACK on Monday, the plane WILL land safely.

Shaken by a gunshot 50 meters from me in an otherwise relatively safe neighbourhood, which got me running for dear life along with others, one fine evening. Such are the occasional traumas of rugged city life where armed robberies flourish.

Impressed by the calm composure of Brazilians in succumbing to difficult and annoying situations that arise from unintelligent bureaucracy, inflation, corruption, etc.  Brazilians and perhaps South Americans have experienced economic instability many times around, such that individuals are used to bracing the worst when it comes, and attempt to find ways around difficulties to survive.

Embarrassed when I’ve got to ask a new-found friend if he/she has signed on with the same mobile phone network as I, so that it’ll be cheaper to text or talk. Mobile phone rates, although slowly becoming cheaper, have been relatively expensive. There’s usually a mutual sigh of relief when we find that our new found friend happens to be on the same mobile network, and are happy to know we can afford this friendship.

Amused by the carnival-like hype that accompanies a political election, which include cars or vans with boom boxes blaring carnival music and placards appealing for votes. Roller-bladers and tricycles holding up signs as they glide back and forth on the boardwalk.

Touched by the demonstration of hard manual labour when you see human-pulled carts transporting goods from one place to another in the summer heat, and you know they earn a measly pay. The Brazilians who do honest work, do work hard.

Appalled at the fast rising prices of just about everything, making Rio de Janeiro one of the most expensive cities to live in these days. I’m still trying to understand how the poor make it.

(I’ll continue adding to my list as I look back on my two years of local experience)

High on cloud nine...on Pedra Bonita, for the most breathtaking view of Rio

I may not have achieved all of my personal or professional goals in my forest of the new, but I’ve been here participating, observing and learning. Like the Antevasin, I’ve moved my border once again to embrace a new understanding that entwines with my old. I’ve rediscovered myself in a new world and am taking with me profound lessons to reflect on, and the bits of a cultural experience that has transformed me for the better. For one, in this culture of love and passion, I’ve learned to hug affectionately because I truly mean it.

To all my friends who have been a part of this journey, thank you. There are some things in Rio and in Brazil that have infected my heart. I know I’ll be back for more…Se Deus Quiser. LOL

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro. Photographer: Lena Trindade

Did you know that the famous icon of Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer, is the largest Art Déco statue in the world? Embarrassingly, I’ll have to admit, I didn’t…until my friend, Maria Carolina, revealed it to me a few days ago.

Christ the Redeemer or O Cristo Redentor do Corcovado, one of the new seven wonders of the world, was a significant contribution of Art Déco to the “New Brazil” of Getúlio Vargas (14th president of the of Brazil between 1930 and 1945; and 17th president of Brazil between 1951 and 1954). Designed and sculptured by Heitor da Silva Costa (project author) and Paul Landowski (a French sculptor) 80 years ago on October 12th, the icon stands majestically 39.6 meters tall on the peak of the 700-meter Corcovado Mountain. I see him almost everyday, almost everywhere I go. He stands prominently in the sun, in the rain, covered by clouds and illuminated by nightlights, embracing us with his fatherly protection. Until recently, I’d noticed him with an unconscious gaze. Today, I’ll admire him with an art lover’s watch. Lets take a second look at O Cristo, with his welcoming arms stretched out, exposing curves and geometric lines. The statue, in its modernist simplicity, is Art Déco in its glory, showing off the quintessence of an artistic movement that merged engineering, architecture and sculpture.

O Cristo happens to be one of over 300 constructions of the Art Déco movement left behind by masters of the art in Rio de Janeiro. As a city and national treasure, O Cristo thankfully gets the preservation attention it so deserves. The fate of the others depends mainly on private care, aficionado and local preservation efforts, and perhaps new admirers like us who give them the local, national and international attention they need.

Accustomed to admiring the natural beauty of distinctly shaped mountains, lush forests and a lively sea – backdrop to a pulsating beach life and Carnival fun – I once walked past buildings oblivious to their glamourous significance in art and architecture history. After relishing the simple elegance of the Saint Trinity church or Igreja da Santíssima Trindade tucked away in the Flamengo neighbourhood with my personal tour guide Maria Carolina, I realized that it was time to take a second – artistic, cultural and historical – look around the city.

Déco decadence sails and ‘zepps’ to Brazil in the 1930s

Lets look at a bit of history. While the Art Déco movement in Europe flourished between 1925 and 1939, Brazil’s period of Art Déco thrived in the 1930s and endured until the mid-1950s. The movement and lifestyle came with transatlantic ships that brought the rich and the famous to Rio de Janeiro, the millionaires’ playground. One glamorous transatlantic that brought the rich to Carnival fun in 1938 and 1939 was the Normandie, a “floating Art Déco palace”, which inspired and influenced native Cariocas. It was on the 1939 Normandie cruise where Carmen Miranda signed her contract with Lee Schubert to star on Broadway. Remember Carmen Miranda, the “Brazilian Bombshell” who was branded by her decorative tutti-frutti attire? Apparently, she was an Art Déco human icon who dressed in the style (and we’re not talking about the frutti attire), who wore geometric jewellery, drove a Déco-designed car and posed alongside anything Art Déco.

Zeppelin Hangar, Base Aérea de Santa Cruz. Photographer: Lena Trindade

Déco decadence didn’t come by ships alone, but also via the luxurious flying hotel, the Zeppelin. This was true testimony that Art Déco was not only decorative art like some critics would put it but a full artistic movement that encompassed industrial design, architecture, fashion, cinema, virtual arts, graphic arts and painting. More significantly, it was an indulgent lifestyle of the times. The aerodynamic Zeppelin, modern, spacious and geometrically balanced, elevated the movement figuratively and literally to great heights.

Living proof that the Zeppelin was once here is the hangar that housed it on its visit. The Base Aérea de Santa Cruz, located in the outskirts of the city, remains as one of the few functioning hangars in the world. At 274m in length and 58m in height, it is yet another representation of streamlined, spacious Art Déco.

Art Déco Marajoara, Art Déco Carioca

The ITAHY building, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro

The Art Déco movement faded away in Europe at the onset of World War II. In Brazil, where the world war had no devastating effect, the movement and lifestyle flourished for yet another decade or two. Local and foreign masters or expressionists the likes of Theodoro Braga, Pedro Correia de Araújo, Le Corbusier, and Michel Dufet made their imprint around the city. Many of such work took on a local flavour that honoured an indigenous heritage, much of which originated from the largest marine-fluvial island in the world, Marajo, in the Brazilian Amazon.

Brazilian or Marajoara Art Déco merged civilization and jungle, which added a unique cultural personality of fauna and flora, Indian figurines and Amazonian talisman to the streamlined and geometric aspect of Art Déco. The weight of Marajoara ornamentation obviously varied according to design and architectural taste, but Marajoara Art Déco individualized the movement and made it authentically Brazilian.

One Marajoara Art Déco piece worth mentioning is the residence Casa Marajoara in Flamengo designed by Gilson Gladstone Navarro. While geometrically Art Déco, it boasts a profusion of details that spell out supernatural citations such as the muiraquítã totems sculptured in iron or painted on stained glass that ward away evil and envy.

The Biarritz building, Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro. Photographer: Lena Trindade

Art Déco architecture thrived in the Carioca city, predominantly in the south zone of Ipanema, Copacabana, Botafogo and Flamengo at first. Buildings were constructed with the spaciousness, lightness, and elegance of Art Déco to lure the rich away from their farms and mansions in the north. Eventually, the architectural style spread across the city, reaching as far as “blue-collar” neighbourhoods, to suburban homes, some of which belonged to construction masters of the time.

Behind gates and grills

With the aging effects of time and the sometimes troubling effects of modern living, some buildings become imprisoned behind safety iron gates, others tumbled, others demolished and others redesigned or replaced. More than half of Rio’s Art Déco buildings have been destroyed over the years leaving us with a bit over 300 to cherish and preserve.

Preservation has gained momentum in the past years from aficionado efforts and from a leading authority in the art movement, Márcio Alves Roiter, president of the Brazilian Art Déco Institute. This year Art Déco Carioca was revived in a big way when Rio de Janeiro hosted the 11th World Congress on Art Déco, which has brought renewed attention and appreciation of the city’s inheritance.

Art Déco tours have also contributed to the preservation efforts, calling attention to a cultural and historical aspect of Rio that was once forgotten. As Maria Carolina puts it, “I believe that by including visits to Art Déco buildings in some of my tour itineraries, we will help to incite new interest in the curious tourist who has a say in how art and history should be preserved.” How true it is that when you draw more attention towards forgotten treasures, chances are…the collective voice will keep them safe.

Take a second look the next time you’re in town

While it is clearly understandable for us working-class city dwellers to vacation in the calmer quarters of resorts and remote destinations, I’d like to say that cities do deserve some attention as they indeed have more to offer than work, traffic, buildings and pollution.

Cities are melting pots of art, culture and history. They come with immigrants, traders, visitors, transatlantics, zeppelins, airplanes – you name it. Art, culture and lifestyle thrive in such dynamic, courageous and change-receptive environments where they are adopted, adapted and acculturated. There’s still wealth in what remains from the past and what’s been adapted for the future. As it stands, Rio de Janeiro can still boast a bit of that wealth in addition to its natural beauty, Copacabana beach and Carnival fun.

Tours for the culturally curious

Maria Carolina Lahr, Multilingual Tour Guide, Rio de Janeiro

I’d like to introduce Maria Carolina Lahr, who through her own interest in Art Déco and in art, culture and history (plus a newly acquired knowledge of wineries) has rekindled my curiosity in the gems of a city. A tour guide at heart and in profession, she retells with true passion the stories and essence of each site, that leaves you feeling you’ve learned something a bit more meaningful at each turn.

Maria Carolina, a local Carioca, shares rich insight and a unique perspective on spots on and off-the beaten track, which are appealing to the international tourist. Perhaps her experience living abroad as a diplomat’s daughter (in Washington D.C., Bogotá, Brasília, Rome, Paris and Norwich) has influenced the way she handles cultural discoveries “perhaps quite like an archeologist but without all the toil of physically laborious digging”.

Proud of her own heritage and enriched with an international mindset, Maria Carolina manages to satisfy the curious minds of Rio visitors to the true treasures of her home. And she does this resourcefully – in English, Italian, French and Spanish.

Maria Carolina Lahr graduated in Comparative Literature at the University of East Anglia (England) and in Travel and Tourism in Rio de Janeiro. For more information about her tours, please write to: carolinaguiadeturismo@gmail.com

Special thanks to

Lena Trindade for the use of her photos – Christ the Redeemer, Base Aérea de Santa Cruz and the Biarritz Building. Lena, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, has been a published photographer since 1975. She focuses primarily on Brazilian nature and artisan works that include Art Déco architecture. Her work has been presented at exhibitions that feature the Brazilian culture.

In November (2011), Lena Trindade will be launching her book Guia das Aves do Jardim Botanico do Rio, which is a guide on the bird species found in the city’s botanical gardens.

Life. Lifestyle

Cool, progressive, international, eco-loving, happy people…this one’s for you. Here’s an opportunity to buy a pair of trees for life and get a pair of shoes for show, or vice versa, however you’d like to look at it. I’ve got my pair of shoes (or espadrilles to be accurate) that’s kept me stylin’ with the in-crowd, and my (or our) pair of trees that’s kept me musing on their close-to-home comforts and their far-from-home significance. Exposed to the grand scale of global warming and climate change discussions, we everyday people go about our busy lives nodding our heads with empathy for the global environment, sometimes doing our part, sometimes not. From my purchasing experience of Viscata espadrilles and trees, I began to recall the importance of trees and shrubs to me personally and envisioned their grand significance to communities around the world. So, I’ve started a list, which I (or we) could refer to when we see a tree, bump into a tree, hear the word “tree” or when we wear a pair of Viscatas. Here’s a story of trees for life, Viscatas for lifestyle, packaged in a “shoe box”.

The importance of trees and shrubs

The Ecological

Offsetting carbon emissions, as most of us know, is of course high priority given the fact that we drive cars, we fly planes, and we use zillions of gallons of gas that spew out the harmful carbon dioxide all over the place. Topping the list of contributing factors to global emissions is, sadly, the loss of natural forests. Let me emphasize, we need our trees, our oxygen banks, to reduce oxides of carbon in the air, and to absorb and metabolize toxic gases – our air pollution.

Photograph by Chris van Swaay

Preserving the natural forest and the urban ecosystem is all about maintaining the balance – happy harmony – for the many species of insects, birds, animals, mammals, other wildlife and us living in our habitats and homes. In the forests or urban parks, we need biodiversity for pollination, seed dispersal and germination amongst other things. Ecologically speaking, trees act as windbreaks in urban settings, providing protection against soil erosion and defending against intrusion by the forces of nature that cause floods, for example.

The Restorative

Preventing soil erosion, desertification, landslides or avalanches…now how does the tree enter into this equation? I’ll admit, the fact that the tree plays a big part in preserving, restoring and protecting the land was far from my mind until I Google-ed and learned.

Haiti’s problem before and after the earthquake of 2010 is a living example of the effects of widespread deforestation. According to a National Geographic report, the destruction of the country’s natural forest is almost complete, making Haiti one of the most deforested in the world, which is bad news (click here for a report on the effects of deforestation in Haiti). As we know, trees or the canopies of trees serve as buffers to fend off wind and rain. The roots help to keep the soil from shifting, thus preventing soil erosion and natural disasters like landslides. Without this vital protection, the country faces the risk of even more landslides. While working to improve the livelihoods of poverty-stricken Haitians, we should also be looking at the bigger picture that cries out for the long-term solution to restore forests and agricultural land.

The Sustaining

Growing and cultivating food, fruit, beverage, fodder, fertilizer, resins, rubber, latex, essential oil and medicine to live, I’m sure, is a concept we can all understand. These are products to be eaten, consumed and used to make goods for our daily sustenance.

Here’s a healthy reminder. While many of us city dwellers shop at supermarkets for our food and at gardening centers for our fertilizer, lets think for a minute about the source and how significantly important it is to the livelihood of farmers or agriculturalists, especially to those who live in poverty-stricken communities around the world. Trees, plants and shrubs not only give the “fruit”, but also regenerate the soil, making it fertile for new crops that feed and sustain the farming communities. Many a times, the fruit of far-from-home labour end up on our urban breakfast tables, purchased from our neighbourhood supermarket. With this in mind, let’s give thanks to the orange trees, the tomato plants and the lettuce greens, rooted somewhere far away from home.

The Sacred

Worshipping trees is not hard to do. Religious or not in our beliefs, I’m sure many of us can appreciate the tranquility and peace they radiate. A shared symbol of life among many world religions, the tree represents fertility, immortality, prosperity, mythology or an extension of the conscience. Rituals are still performed around the myth of certain trees in traditional communities like those of the indigenous people. For the Ticuna Indians who live in the Amazonian region of Brazil, the Samaumeira tree is the “mother of the forest” and “creator of the world” (taken from a report by the Pedagogical team of ASSINTEC, Brazil – Nov/Dec 2008).

From the Far East comes the story of Buddha who achieved enlightenment while sitting under the sacred fig Bodhi tree. And so I say, it is not difficult to worship a tree, which in all its grace stretches from earth to skies, integrating three worlds – the roots grounded in the subterranean, the trunk and branches showing off the beauty of its foliage and its canopy freeing spiritual vision into the skies.

The Sheltering

Two men sitting under a Bottle Tree, by Reckitt and Mills

Escaping from the unbearable heat of the sun or the worrying signs of stress, we snuggle up under the sheltering nature of canopies for private picnics or spiritual solace. Shade in the summer gives us a sensational variety of warmth and coolness as we walk down tree-lined avenues. On hot harvesting days, it gives farmers the short restorative breaks they need to carry out a full day’s work. The feel good sensation of sitting in the shade formed under a thick canopied tree in summer, is perhaps, my closest-to-home relatable reason to wanting more trees in our cities and in our world. What’s yours?

Seed efforts today

Here’s a Chinese proverb for the visionary.

If you are thinking a year ahead, sow a seed.

If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree.”

The tiny-sized seed that we sow today may seem so insignificant, buried in the soil. But if our imaginations would let us envision the immense effect of this one effort ten years from now, I’m sure we’ll all be doing our part much faster.

Green efforts in my world

Greening cities – Sao Paulo

While we urban-dwelling culprits spread vehicle pollution, aware that this has got to change, small initiatives like adding tree life to parks can play its part for our close-to-home comforts. The multiplying effect can be a lot greater in the context of climate change – imagine.

Recently, while walking with a friend in my favourite Sao Paolo park, Parque Ibirapuera, I learned about the big landscaping and restoration plans that were underway. Just knowing that the city and companies like Volkswagen Brazil (that restored the bicycle circuits) cared to make things better for city citizens, made the walk extra pleasant.

On May 31st, to commemorate the C40 Summit on climate change, 49 representatives from large metropolitan cities around the world including New York city mayor, Michael Bloomberg, gathered to plant 59 seedlings of 12 different species of trees in Parque Ibirapuera. This step is hopefully only the beginning of future efforts by large cities to help counter the effects of climate change in a rising sense of urgency. Seedlings planted today represent our respect for trees and our love for good life.

Your world. Your shoes – The Viscata story

Visionary companies of today are striking out to make a difference in a social or environmental way. It made perfect sense for Viscata, creators of the latest stylish espadrilles made from the Jute plant, to contribute in tree planting. The espadrille, as many of us know, is the all-natural, eco-friendly and biodegradable shoe that has recently hit the catwalks in a fashionable way. A traditional, durable shoe hand-made in the Pyrenees region between Spain and France since the 1300s, it had earned its place in off-the-beaten track local shops, which sold it for its durability and comfort.

The Viscata founders, for personal love of the shoe, decided to breathe new and trendy life into the traditional espadrille while building a sense of community among its fans. Viscata is about a feel good lifestyle, that is characteristic of a Mediterranean city like Barcelona, where the company was born. Visca, in actual fact, means ‘life” in the Catalan language while Cata, as you international travelers might guess, comes from the word Catalunya (the state of Barcelona).

Visiting a tree planting community in India

Call it beginner’s luck, good timing, good trend spotting, or just great vibes, Viscata espadrilles hit the New York Fashion Week runway in late 2009, featured alongside the Simon Spurr (a London designer) Spring/Summer 2010 men’s collection. As planned, sales have grown globally, and so it should for an international brand. Sales success naturally means more seeds are being planted because Viscata takes “Buy a pair of shoes, plant a pair of trees” quite seriously. Right now, the company supports tree-growing initiatives in several rural villages in India that are managed by the non-profit organization, Trees for the Future. According to Viscata’s co-founder, Thomas Morris, their tree planting initiatives have indeed been contributing in bettering the livelihoods of the people, as they grow food, improve soil quality and strengthen the land. The idea is, of course, that as the company grows, their tree initiatives will grow with them to reach other communities in the world. As he puts it, it is about sharing the good times.

Buy a pair of shoes, plant a pair of trees. Buy a pair of trees, get a pair of shoes. However we package it, it really is all about feeling good, innit?

The Viscata Lifestyle

Click here to SHOP

 

One fine Carioca (a term given to native inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro) evening, I made a concerted effort to accompany my Argentinean Flamenco dancer friend, Paula, to a Flamenco show, or to put it more accurately, a Flamenco-Contemporary dance piece called  Hembra, Interferências. I was amused with the thought of sitting through yet another Flamenco show while in Brazil, with a “been there, done that” attitude, having seen and heard the Spanish folkloric dance and music while living in Spain. This was a different experience, perhaps because I managed to interact or connect with the vibrating emotional intensity of the two female dancers. Passionate self expressions through rhythmic stomping of the feet and strong movements of the arms have sparked a new curiosity in Flamenco. Well, it would’ve been natural to pursue my curiosity of the dance in Spain where I’d lived for ten years, but life always gives us a second chance to experience and learn wherever we may be in place or in time.

So let me tell you a bit about the dance piece that won me over to Flamenco and the powerful expressions of dance. Hembra, Interferências is about the modern woman who attempts to address her social need to be equal to men, to address her subliminal need to find her feminine self again, and to fulfill her ultimate desire in achieving balance and respect in society while living out her very own true feminine values.  In the dance piece, Maria Thereza Canário is detached from her essence, represented by her contemporary dance partner, Fernanda Calomeni. Using symbolic elements of Flamenco like the shawl, the fan and the castanets (representing material things), she tries to integrate with the world while sometimes sacrificing herself for the sake of others. Fernanda, the essence, dances with fewer elements although is influenced to pick up the material elements from time to time. The two dancers strive to connect through different artistic movements, ending in a finale of harmonized body movements without the material elements.

Being a woman, I liked this piece because I felt and understood it; because it isn’t a fairy tale or a story to be framed for the past. It is one woman’s personal expression while searching for balance in our world today where we are influenced by intense progress and inundated by information. For Maria Thereza, her dance piece, Hembra, Interferências, readapted from a choreographed piece by Domingo and Immaculada Ortega (renowned names in Flamenco) is a personal expression as she works towards connecting with her true essence in each artistic movement, aware that each one may stir a different emotion that integrates or interferes with her essence. Her artistic movements, in effect, may represent how we interact daily with the outside influences and inside emotional torments of being a modern woman, a mother and a wife. With Flamenco expressive movement of the arms and rhythmic stamping of the feet, she manages to transmit emotional intensity, anxiety, tension and pride to the woman in the audience who understands, including me. The powerful expressive movements did honestly move me, wow!

I haven’t as yet signed up for a Flamenco dance class merely because I still feel I should be perfecting the Samba for “when in Rio, do as the Cariocas do”, right? But I’d recommend the dance as yet another beautiful way of expressing your personal experiences, powerfully. Maria Thereza had told me something that I thought to be rather fascinating about Flamenco – like wine that gets better with age, Flamenco dancers gain recognition only after many years of practical and emotional maturity. And that’s the way it should be, value the passing of trial and error, value the ability to let go and express, value your courage to move forward, value your true essence and you’ll reach your prime in style.

So here are some notes to close off:

Palo – a Flamenco music style (there are over 50 different palos in Flamenco). Compás – the rhythmic cycle of a Palo. Bulería – a 12-beat compás, fast flamenco that is often played with the accents on the 3rd, 7th, 8th, 10th and 12th beats, accompanied by Palmas hand clapping in groups of 6 beats that produce contra-tempo, counter rhythms within the 12-beat rhythmic cycle.

Can you hear the beats?

Special thanks to Maria Thereza Canário for taking the time to be interviewed. Hembra, Interferências is the 2nd choreographed dance movement by Maria Thereza, the first of which Hembra was performed in 2008. I look forward to seeing her next dance movement, which I imagine will be even more spectacular. For more information on Flamenco and dance classes in Rio, visit: http://www.estudiobailado.blogspot.com/


Flowers washed to shore - white for peace and prosperity; yellow for abundance and financial rewards; red for love and passion

On New Year’s eve morning, I sent my offerings to Iemanjá, Queen of the Ocean, saying thank you for what was, what I’d experienced and what I’d learned. In synchrony with billions of people around the world, I’m making the most of our marked end of the calendar year to ask for renewed positive energy for the New Year. This 31st, I’ve tried out a different ritual with my new Carioca (a name for Rio de Janeiro residents) girlfriends on the beach of Copacabana. I’ve made my wishes, sending flowers out to sea, keeping faith that Iemanjá will kindly grant them.

Iemanjá - Queen of the Ocean

Iemanjá is the Queen of the Ocean, the patron deity of fishermen and survivors of shipwrecks, the feminine principle of creation and the spirit of moonlight. She is an Orisha, which is a spirit or deity who is prominent in many African religions including the Brazilian Candomblé and Umbanda religions. In Salvador de Bahia, where Candomblé is widely practiced, people pay homage to Iemanjá on February 2nd in a procession where everyone wears white and sends offerings out to sea that include food, flowers and objects of female vanity like mirrors, combs and perfumes. In Rio de Janeiro, Cariocas of all religions pay homage to Iemanjá on New Year’s Eve. Dressed in white, they send offerings of flowers and other objects out to sea, sometimes in little wooden toy boats, with hope that she will grant them their requests for the coming year.

Following instructions from my Carioca girlfriends, veterans in the ritual, I sent out white flowers to ask for peace and all things good and positive. My girlfriends and I, and the millions of Cariocas sent out flowers (primarily white and yellow for those are the colours Iemanjá loves) and gifts of female vanity (mind you, trying to be environmentally conscious, I refrained from sending out objects that are non bio-degradable). Drops of champagne were also tossed into the sea, a luxurious touch to welcome the New Year.

Dona Sarita offering white and yellow flowers to Iemanjá

Celina and Dona Sarita tossing champagne into the sea

Mercedes tossing perfume in gratitude for the year gone by

On Copacabana beach, around 2 million people gathered, many dressed in white, to ring in the New Year and the new decade. According to a Globo newspaper article published today, 2011 opens the “golden decade” for Rio de Janeiro as the city prepares for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. Considering the large crowd, there was an incredible moment of silence of awe, joy and hope during the 16-minute firework display following count down. Cariocas continued to send their offerings out to sea throughout the night, perhaps many asking Iemanjá for the protection and peace that this beautiful city deserves.

Flowers washed to shore after receiving Iemanjá's blessings

As I sent white roses out to sea, I sent wishes for peace and good health for my family and friends around the world. Takk fyrir pað liðna or Takk fyrir þau gömlu as they would say in Iceland, a rather charming expression to end the year and to start a new one. Directly translated, it is, thanks for the past or the old – in other words or rather in my words, thanks for the days gone by that we’ve spent together whether it is in physical presence, in heart, in mind or via Skype.

Feliz ano novo. Muito paz e muito saúde. Happy New Year, everyone. To lots of peace and good health.

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