Thursday, February 28, 2013

Coastal Paradise: Ilha Grande + Paraty - In A Brazil Minute (Week 148)

Ahhh, Costa Verde - the green coast mostly in Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil. Not sure if I have the words to describe how special my time and experience were on the island Ilha Grande and how much I enjoyed my time in the bay of Paraty.

I hope these images will do some justice. Although I already know that I will have to publish longer videos of each place to show you more of what I saw. 

Coastal Paradise: Ilha Grande + Paraty - In A Brazil Minute (Week 148) from Luci Westphal on Vimeo.

But it's almost impossible to convey how it felt to be hiking for hours all alone on challenging steep and slippery trails through the rainforest of Ilha Grande, to take in the views from up high of this green paradise and then to finally reach the beach where Jessica, one of my best friends, was waiting (having taken the boat or else not spent so much time video taping and photographing every step) and then  standing in the ocean, with the waves crashing against my legs, the sound of the surf, the smell of the water, the taste of salty water and the vision of the majestic green hills dipped in rainforest clouds and the vast almost empty beach spread below. The feeling of really being in the moment, the feeling of happiness, the feeling of having just taken up the challenge and earned this moment of joy.

Paraty offered a lovely colonial village, a boat tour to visit secluded beaches and to really swim in the warm Atlantic Ocean and last, but not least, long evenings on the little beach in front of our pousada drinking beer from the can and naming all the stray dogs.

We hardly even minded all the rain and clouds (I got majorly sunburnt anyway).

If you ever go to Brazil, definitely include some time in Costa Verde! 

Ilha Grande, Brazil

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Expat Language and Culture Dilemma or "Can't we all just get along?"

This post was originally intended as a comment on the blog post ‘“Wie, bitte?” Ranting back at Exberliner’ by Lauren Oyler on the überlin blog, which in turn was a response to the article ‘RANT! “Sorry, no German!”’ by Julie Colthorpe on the Exberliner blog. But my comment ended up being so long, personal and possibly slightly off topic that I thought it would be more fitting on my own blog.
In short, Julie Colthorpe had an issue with expats not learning German: “The problem is the blasé nonchalant attitude that some expats adopt when it comes to speaking the language of their adopted country: they don’t.”

Lauren Oyler responded from her perspective that speaking German in Berlin is not a necessity: “Here, you can avoid that if you want to, but people — usually non-native German speakers — will scold you for it.”

Please read those articles to get the whole scoop, since summing them up in one sentence doesn’t do them justice.

Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung is a word you might need to learn if you want to rent your own apartment in Germany. Or you can ask one of your German friends to translate for you.

So much has already been said by the original article in Exberliner, in the response post on überlin and in the myriad of comments on those articles. I still feel compelled to add my opinions, because I always feel the urge to express myself, which is a reason why I try to learn at least some basics of the language of whatever country I am in.

First of all, I have mixed feelings about the core question: should foreigners (Aylanten, Gastarbeiter, Expats… all Auslaender) learn the native language? Should it be a requirement? Should it be a question of shame?

When pressed for a definition of my status, I refer to myself as a German New Yorker in Berlin or an ex-expat. Born and raised in Hamburg, Germany I ended up living most of my adult life in the US, mainly in Brooklyn, NY. That is about 16 years of living as an expat without being aware of the term expat or socializing much with other Europeans. I had fully integrated and became a New Yorker, with body, soul and language.  

When a few years ago I realized that my German had an American accent and I was losing my connection to my family and culture, I decided to return to Germany temporarily and have been living in both Berlin and Brooklyn for the last three years.

The main reason why I moved to Berlin, not my hometown Hamburg: EXPATS!

First and foremost, I needed to find a city in my Vaterland where my Floridian New Yorker husband could communicate, work and generally feel comfortable during his first expat experience. While he had taken several semesters of German and lived with me for over a decade in the US, his German language skills weren’t perfect yet.

Second of all, it was also about where I could feel at home. Maybe it started when I was an exchange student in Florida, maybe it started when I read “Als Hitler das rosa Kaninchen stahl” in elementary school – but I just can’t quite identify with being “German”. There are too many political, social, educational reasons to name why I can’t identify with being “American” – but I wholeheartedly identify with being a (German-raised) New Yorker because of New York’s diversity in people, culture, art, business, economics, food and language etc. In Brooklyn alone there are 136 different languages spoken by people of 150 nationalities. In Berlin 26% of the population has a migration background, representing 184 nationalities!

Places like Berlin and New York seem so great because you can come from anywhere and feel home amongst people from anywhere who are open to people from anywhere. It’s the idea of a global community that I embrace and envision to be our future. All you need to communicate are some basic skills in a common language; and as of right now, that is still English among most travelers, expats, international businesses, media and educational systems.

I celebrate the idea that in a country where the native language is German, people can live without being ostracized for only speaking English. Imagine a world without discrimination where we can all communicate and get along!

But because we celebrate diversity and otherness, we should also embrace the native culture. Isn’t it a no-brainer that you’d want to learn at least the basics of the native language wherever you live, even wherever you travel to? Don’t you want to be understood and ensure that you understand what’s going on around you? Not to mention enjoying all that this culture has to offer, including films, books, music, etc.

My husband’s frustration with language in such a global city was that whenever he tried to speak German, Germans would notoriously respond in English, because most of them seem to enjoy honing their English language skills just as much as he liked practicing his German.

German is a tough language to learn. Maybe we can help our foreign friends not by scolding if they hide out amongst other foreigners in an Australian breakfast spot, American burger place or Turkish tea house, but by patiently encouraging them to express themselves in rudimentary, grammatically-weak Deutsch and by dropping a few German nouns or verbs every once in a while. Embrace, don’t judge.

When speaking about language diversity on foreign soil, we also speak about culture in general; and as we move into the age of a global society there is the anxiety of losing one’s culture.  Then it becomes a question of making efforts to preserve a language and specific culture – both the native as well as the foreign.

Some US citizens fear that through the large Spanish-speaking population American culture and language will get lost – at least in some areas. Already in Miami street signs come in both languages. When you call customer service numbers, there is usually the option to switch to the Spanish menu.

In Germany we have a large Turkish population, which in my eyes has the right to preserve their own culture and language. Why shouldn’t they have their Turkish-language cafes or meeting places?

While I lived in America I didn’t seek out any Germans, as I mentioned I totally integrated. But I did look with a little envy at my Irish friends who could socialize naturally at Manhattan Irish pubs and reminisce about the old country. In the long run I realized that I suffered from having cut myself off from my culture, my language and my roots. This is why I had to return to Germany and why today I embrace keeping alive my American/NYC and my expat culture by going to the American burger place (even though I’m a vegetarian) or that Californian bar or soon that Australian breakfast spot in Neukoelln that I found out about through the Exberliner article.  

On the other hand, the first generation people who have moved here as adults run into serious problems if they can’t communicate. My mother was the principal of an elementary school, which had a sizable Turkish student body. The children usually spoke German – but some of the parents didn’t. So the kids or other adults had to translate. And then my mother decided to learn Turkish. Embrace, make an effort.

Our world is continuously changing, it is becoming more global. I don’t think it’s a process we can stop. Tribes move, languages change, cultures adapt. It’s just the process of evolution.

I am delighted and proud of my international family. My mother’s sister married a French man and moved to France, where I now have French cousins with children; my husband is American and with him I gained a lovely Southern family; my brother’s girlfriend is half-Swedish and their son grows up speaking German, Swedish and English.

I wish we could all embrace each other’s diversity, make an effort to understand each other – on both sides, the natives and the expats. Share each other’s cultures, learn each others languages, but also be understanding of those who want to preserve and celebrate their own language, culture and community. Let’s appreciate the diversity and stop hating so much.

Can’t we all just get along? 
Koennen wir nicht alle einfach miteinander auskommen?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Photos from Rio de Janeiro

This is a selection of photos I took while filming "Rio de Janeiro - In A Berlin Minute (Week 147)".

WATCH the 1-minute video HERE. 

READ more about the trip and the video.

The sum of Rio: mountains, beach, clouds, people, greenery and sipping on coconuts
- Ipanema Beach -

First picture I took in Rio de Janeiro fits the other overall impression I had of the city

Igreja Nossa Senhora da Glória - Rio

Igreja Nossa Senhora da Glória - Rio

Pão de Açúcar  - Sugarloaf Mountain

Jessica on Ipanema Beach - Rio

Passion fruit caipiroska on Ipanema Beach - Rio

Santa Teresa - Rio

Santa Teresa - Rio

Stairs from Santa Teresa to Cosme Velho - Rio

Graffiti in Leblon - Rio

Coconut garbage - Rio

At the Copacabana... (Rio)

Copacabana Beach - Rio

Copacabana Beach - Rio de Janeiro

Building sandcastle on Copacabana Beach - Rio

Tree Man in Ipanema - Rio

Favela - Rio
Colorful favela - Rio

Favela detail - Rio

Modern Art Street Art - Rio

Girls Street Art - Santa Teresa, Rio
Street in Santa Teresa with Cristo Redentor above - Rio

Stairs and street art in Santa Teresa - Rio

Santa Teresa street art and Sugarloaf Mountain - Rio

Cable chaos in Rio
"Will you take my picture with Christ The Redeemer?" - Rio

Ipanema and Leblon the way Cristo sees them - Rio

Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo as Cristo Redentor sees them - Rio

Christ The Redeemer - diagonal view
Rio de Janeiro

Christ The Redeemer - classic view
Rio de Janeiro

There are other statues in Rio, too, and lots of pigeosn

Divided building and Rio cop

Water street art in Botafogo, Rio

Windows in Botafogo, Rio
Rio-in-a-day Crew in Botafogo (minus Felipe + Kota, but plus two random women)

A dog named Toastbrett (aka toastboard) - Ipanema, Rio

My only regret about Rio: I never managed to buy that umbrella. Mario was more efficient!

Above was a selection of photos I took while filming "Rio de Janeiro - In A Berlin Minute (Week 147)". If you want to see more pictures, check out a collection of my Instagram photos from Rio HERE or go all the way and check out my Brazil album on Flickr.

WATCH the 1-minute video HERE

READ more about the trip and the video.

Soon I will make a separate video and photo post just with street art / graffiti from all over Brazil. I was really impressed with how different and ever present street art was in Brazil.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Brendan Maclean - "Stupid" (MusicMonday)

Is there any musical "genre" that is more liberating and invigorating than a cheery, danceable break-up song? Add to that a fun, reckless, out-of-bounds dance video and you have the perfect mix to kick any emotional blues in the butt. 

Brendan Maclean has no problem and is not stupid

On behalf of all who use music and dancing as a mood-altering drug, medication and personal soundtrack, I'd like to thank Australian singer, songwriter, radio announcer and actor Brendan Maclean for giving us a new anthem that I'd like to compare to classics like Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and one of my personal favorites: Liz Phair's "6'1"". 

On a side note: as a film- and music video maker, my heart beats faster when I see such a simple seeming 1-take music video that just nails it! Hope to make one of those one day... 

Starting in May you'll be able to see Brendan Maclean in Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby as Ewing Klipspringer.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Rio de Janeiro - In A Brazil Minute (Week 147)

Visiting Rio de Janeiro at the beginning and again in the middle of my 3-week Brazil trip was amazing. The 6th largest city in the Americas has become a home of a World Heritage Site named "Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea"

Rio offers amazing vistas of mountains, bays, beaches, the Atlantic Ocean, contrasting architecture, a surprisingly different style of street art and graffiti, delicious (though greasy) seafood, tasty drinks, friendly strangers, the threat of theft, music, costumes, colors, hot temperatures, a lot more clouds and rain than expected and the lively Brazilians that will dance in the rainy streets anyway.

Rio de Janeiro - In A Brazil Minute (Week 147) from Luci Westphal on Vimeo.

This was one of the most difficult videos to edit. How do you squeeze about a week of Rio into one minute? Pretty impossible. I tried. I will certainly publish a few more videos and an extended version soon (on YouTube they'll be on my LuciWest channel).

In this video you'll see: Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ The Redeemer, Favelas, street art in Santa Teresa and Cosme Velho, an inner city chicken, the church at Largo do Machado (where you can get amazing Lebanese food in the small mall), Botafogo, the creatures and beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, a passion-fruit Caipiroska and pre-Carnival revelers outside our home-away-from-home the Devassa Brewery in Ipanema. 

Yes, I would whole-heartedly recommend a visit to Rio... and they sell umbrellas and bikinis everywhere...

The music is "1 x 0" by Pixinguinha and Benedito Lacerda in a recording from 1941. It is in the public domain. 

Birds-Eye-View of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ilha Grande (More Brazil photos from Instagram)

A few more Instagram pictures from my trip to Brazil. If you're on Instagram, let's connect. My username: LuciWest.

These pictures are all from the island Ilha Grande in Rio State. 

Btw, Thursday night I'll publish my first In A Brazil Minute video...

Welcoming Committee

First Night's Dinner View
We were glad to see that cruise ship go...

View of Vila do Abraãon from hiking trail


Colorful buildings in mostly abandoned Dios Rios with clouds hanging low in rainforest
A palm tree...

Abandoned prison in Dios Rios

Path to the beach of Dios Rios

Surprise picnic delivery on Praia de Dios Rios

Abandoned prison / lazaret

Abandoned prison / lazaret

Still functioning aqueduct

Can't hide the Berlin hipster side if this is how you present yourself on Brazilian island beach...

View of sailboat on the hike to Praia de Lopes Mendes

Path to Lopes Mendes beach

A break on one of the "lesser beaches" on the the hike to Lopes Mendes beach

Two beaches before Lopes Mendes actually would have been a great place to stay and chill...