Winter weekend getaways

21 02 2010

Canada is a great place to live, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my 13+ years living in the Great White North. But I confess that the winter months still make me homesick, my sun-deprived self always demanding some sun rays and a vacation down South between December and March.

This year, however, a mid-winter vacation was not possible, so we overcame our cryophobia and decided to spend two 3-day weekends up North in Muskoka in February. Both mini-vacations went so well that I’m considering going for these cold getaways much more often from now on.

The first trip was to a place facing the beautiful Oxtongue Lake, just a few kilometres from the Algonquin Park West entrance:


Oxtongue Lake in Ontario, Canada

It was a weekend with clear night skies, no wind, cold temperatures and a full moon:

Frozen Oxtongue Lake under a full moon

The picture above is a bit crappy, but the actual experience of walking on the frozen lake covered by snow under a full moon was memorable. The snow absorbed the sounds and reflected the moonlight, the lack of wind and proper insulation made the night walking pleasant and a very unusual sensorial experience overall.

Also unusual was barbecuing under the snow:

Hummm… Picanha BBQ…

Best of all, we had the tobogganing hill for ourselves for most of the weekend:


L trying solo tobogganing for the first time

And then doing it all by himself

Last weekend, we went back to Muskoka, this time close to Sparrow Lake. It was not as secluded as the other place, but it was good to try a variety of winter sports. The hotel offered free gear rentals for skating, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and curling. It was the first Winter Olympics weekend, and L was very excited in trying stuff he was seeing on TV:

First time donning skates


Snow-shoeing


Cross-country skiing

Saying that I have two left feet for winter sports is an understatement. I excel in being bad in all sports, but there’s no word to describe my performance (or lack thereof) with skis or skates. Hopefully, L will not inherit my total ineptitude to brave snow and ice, and his newly discovered interest on winter sports will last beyond the Vancouver 2010 games. For the first time ever, I feel almost sad that the end of winter is already around the corner.





Itu 400 – Part 4: Flickr Slideshow

2 02 2010

Well, today is the day. Happy 400th birthday!

more about "400 Fotos do cotidiano ituano", posted with vodpod





Itu 400 – Part 3: The land that Google forgot

30 01 2010

Google Maps still amazes me, even after all these years. It evolved from a plain online map to a full-fledged tool with niceties such as Street View and the ability to add your own location. If you live in Toronto, New York or Paris, you can’t help but expect that one day live images of your street will be available.

On the other side, if you live in a small city in South America, chances are that you won’t be that lucky. Here’s a snapshot of the satellite view of Itu in Google:


Itu, city core, Google Maps

As you can see using the red and green arrows as a reference, the map view and the satellite view are off by about 50 m. If you can read a bit of Portuguese, you’ll find that this map shows two city halls and, oddly enough, a campsite in the middle of the city! And if you ever lived there, you’ll spot many other errors in the map, with several points of interest with the wrong name or in the wrong location.

I wonder if a Street View of Itu will ever be considered by Google. Until that day comes, I’ll be helping them with my 2 cents: I’ve just visited their Local Business Centre and added my brother’s restaurant to it. After all, social media gurus told me that, if you are not Googleable, you don’t exist :-P

For my previous posts celebrating the 400 years of Itu, click here and here.





Itu 400 – Part 2: There are places I remember

23 01 2010

I’ve been late with my Itu 400 series posts, and, since February 2nd is around the corner, I’d better post at least a second installment. I fully realize that most people don’t care about a small town in the middle of South America, but the most liberating thing about having your own blog is that you grow comfortable about just writing to yourself. If you get any readers along the way, that’s a bonus, but not the reason to blog.

Itu has always been proud of its history: the locals often hold public events celebrating the imagery of times past. For Europeans and Asians, 400 years is like peanuts, but it’s not too bad for cities in the New World. I always enjoyed seeing how cities, like people, grow old and reinvent themselves.

We typically celebrate the Internet as the source for the latest and greatest, but its ability to give us a window to the long forgotten past is equally brilliant. As social media becomes more pervasive, we no longer need to rely solely on rare archives of some obscure museum curator to find rarities. That yellowish photo in your grandfather’s box can easily make its way to Flickr or your blog/twitpic/posterous presence, and suddenly be accessible to the world. For example, you can now find this great video of Itu in YouTube:

It’s a pity to learn that the city core was so preserved back in the 1960s and is a mix of old and new today. Most of the Portuguese-style colonial architecture houses gave place to modern buildings since then, so the opportunity to become one day a UNESCO World Heritage Centre is now lost forever.

During my last time in Itu, I took a few pictures of the old Itu archives and compared them to how those places look today:



Central Square



Rua Paula Souza


Taxi Service



Shortest Pedestrian Crossing in South America?


My elementary school

Looking at all these old pictures, I can’t help but think about Cinema Paradiso, one of my favourite movies of all time. The old cinema theatre is now a public parking lot. I didn’t take a picture of it, as it was a bit too depressing.


Cine Marrocos in its last days
Source: Cine Mafalda blog

On the bright side, writing this post I found that there is a director’s cut of Cinema Paradiso, with extra 51 minutes at the end of it! I watched this movie for the first time a very long time ago in some obscure film festival in São Paulo, and always had the impression that after the credits there was a very short scene with the adult Salvatore meeting Elena again, but after seeing the movie on DVD I thought it was some kind of urban hallucination I had. Now I know that at least I was not that crazy. Here’s a teaser for you:

See? Even if nobody ever reads this post, I think I already benefited from writing it. Now I need to find where to buy the DVD for less than the outrageous price at Amazon.ca (CAD$ 102.33 for a DVD? Seriously?).





Itu 400 – Part 1: small town, large ambitions

19 12 2009

If you are not from Brazil, you probably never heard about Itu. Itu is a small city about 100 km from São Paulo, known by many in Brazil as the city where everything is exaggeratedly big. Well, not everything. I was born there, so all the 1.67 m of me (5’6″, generously speaking) are genuinely from Itu :-) .

Of course, everything being big is a marketing ploy to attract tourists, started by a local comedian in a popular TV show in the late 60s. That notwithstanding, that meme was so sticky that even today people in Brazil still call anything too large as being “from Itu”. This is my son last month, amazed by Itu’s public phone:

Here are some other X-Large oddities:


Traffic lights


Popsicle ad and chair


Popsicle ad, chair and another phone

The list goes on and on: you can get pacifiers, combs, hammers, pencils, paper clips and even condoms (!) as Itu-sized souvenirs. But there’s much more to Itu than that (in my naturally biased view, of course). On February 2nd, 2010, Itu will be celebrating its 400th anniversary:


Countdown to Feb 2nd, 2010

Founded in 1610, Itu is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. I wish I could be there for the big party, but since I can’t, I’ll settle for writing a few more blog posts about this beloved town over the next 44 days.





Twilight: New Moon – Interactive Displays in Brazil

7 12 2009

I started writing this post a month ago, but stopped as I did not have access to the Internet while in Brazil, so pardon the taste of yesterday’s news here.

Unlike Bernie, I don’t have a teenager daughter, so I have just a very fuzzy idea about what The Twilight Saga is all about. But it doesn’t take a Roger Ebert or Peter Travers to know that it’s at least as popular in Brazil as it is in Canada and the US: its second installment ranked as the top box office in Brazil this year. Taking the subway in São Paulo 2 weeks before the opening of New Moon, it was hard to miss this eye-catching, vending-machine-like, err, device:

Twilight Interactive Display in São Paulo

Here are some more pictures, in case Twilight is your thing:

The main feature was the embedded camera, that allowed you to take a picture of yourself and edit it to transform yourself into a werewolf or a vampire. Your picture then became part of the gallery for all to see. No, I did not try it, or at least that’s what I claim :-) . It actually looked a lot like a very big version of an iPhone app, except that you could not shake it to start over. You could also watch movie trailers and download an app to your cell via Bluetooth.

The company behind it was a Brazilian “digital interaction agency”, Ginga. I know the explanation above is as clear as mud, so here’s their own video showing how it works:

How effective is this new media outlet? Hard to tell. But they used a 1.0 version of their displays for the first movie of the series, back in December 2008, and Ginga claims the following:

This solution was integrated with the whole digital campaign: website, banners, and a strong community created for the fans in Brazil.

RESULTS

Over 4.5 million people reached by the subway campaign over a month.

One of the top 10 box-offices in 2008 in Brazil.

Over 180,000 content downloads via Bluetooth.

Not too shabby, eh? Here’s the video of their first version (which, by the way, looks much more impressive than the second one):

P.S.: If you see me blogging next time about Hannah Montana, it’s a sign that the end of the world is coming.





The Circus and le Cirque

7 08 2009

Over the long weekend, my wife and I took L to see the Shrine Circus at the Centre Point Mall in North York.

Looking at the kids on the back of this elephant was a trip down the memory lane:

Despite all the controversy around the use of animals – a Twitter search for that event will return at least as many protests as praises – I have to admit that one of my earliest and fondest memories as a kid is playing with a lion cub in some anonymous circus, duly recorded in a badly preserved picture (I’m the one on my father’s lap):

The last time I’ve been to a traditional circus – i.e., excluding the Cirque du Soleil – I was a 9-year-old living in the same city I was born at. I vividly recall my friend Drausio petting a camel and getting sprayed with drool all over his face – no picture of that, unfortunately :-P , and no relationship with the delicious camel drool Portuguese dessert, or “baba de camelo”.

Back then, having a circus coming to our city was a big deal, as the only other mass entertainment available for kids was to watch old movies on Sunday’s matinées. Old is an understatement: I actually remember going to a black-and-white Tarzan movie featuring Johnny Weissmuller. Most Disney cartoons didn’t get distributed beyond the large cities, but you don’t miss what you never had, so I have no complaints there. The pluses of growing up on the countryside outweigh by far the constraints – in my naturally biased view, of course.

Not much changed since: the Shrine Circus 2009 show was not very different from the ones I used to see so many years ago: no high-tech involved, just the artist, the act and the public, all frozen in time and space. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong here, but I think I just saw the last few breaths of a dying art. I quoted Evan Solomon (CBC) a few months ago saying that “when a new technology comes, the incumbent never dies: it simply goes after deeper efficiencies”. The innovation pipeline does not always work like that, as typewritters and the telegraph can attest. Radio, TV, movies, games and the Internet all fragmented the entertainment space in formats that are more easily consummable, forcing live performances to go after deeper efficiencies.Thus, circus performances will live on through the several forms of Cirque Nouveau, but somehow the amateur spirit is gone as shown in this Wikipedia excerpt:

Cirque expanded rapidly through the 1990s and 2000s, going from one show to approximately 3,500 employees from over 40 countries producing 15 shows over every continent except Africa and Antarctica, with an estimated annual revenue exceeding US$ 600 million. The multiple permanent Las Vegas shows alone play to more than 9,000 people a night, 5% of the city’s visitors, adding to the 70+ million people who have experienced Cirque. In 2000, Laliberté bought out Gauthier, and with 95% ownership, has continued to expand the brand. Several more shows are in development around the world, along with a television deal, women’s clothing line and the possible venture into other mediums such as spas, restaurants and nightclubs.

I used “amateur”, but the precise word is “mambembe” – no idea on how to translate that from Brazilian Portuguese. So, in the mambembe spirit, I’d like to conclude this post with this very amateurish video with my favourite circus song:








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