Photography Friday

I was inspired by Robert over at Travel, Eat, Repeat to post a Photography Friday series. Though my photos will be nothing like his beautiful travel photos, I hope they’ll be able to give you some insight into different aspects of my life. And what better place to start than with some photos from T’s and my wedding? We got married on July 1, 2011 in the Bay Area, where we live.

Obviously there are tons, so in effort to keep this post from becoming excruciatingly long, I’ll stick to some of my absolute favorites. Many thanks and major props to our wedding photographer, Abel Soria!

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My mom’s best friend fixing my dad during our pre-wedding family pictures… and my brother being a dork in the background.

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My mom and I making “our face” at each other.

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There is so much happiness in this picture! T, both of his brothers, and my brother.

Me and my brother.

Dad and brother.

One of my absolute favorites of me.

T’s family.

One of the worst pictures of me of all time, but you can see why it makes me so happy.

Enjoying hors d’oeuvres before making our appearance at the reception, and being ourselves.

At our reception… you can see how beautiful the colors were.

I love this one of my parents and their best friends.

Visiting one of my college roommates.

T with another of my roommates.

Me, my maid of honor, and her boyfriend (now fiancé!) in the background.

Enjoying my maid of honor and my new husband!

All of my cousins!

Our first dance was to “Everything” by Michael Bublé.

Dancing with my dad to “The Way You Look Tonight.”

I was definitely making a high-pitched squealing noise in this picture.

Our ring bearer dancing with his mom.

And finally, our best man and maid of honor getting their (incredibly dorky) groove on, which is obviously why we love them.

What’s My Voice Type Again?

My identity as a singer has a lot (i.e. almost everything) to do with my voice type.

That means that all of my repertoire choices and the roles I’m able to sing, and thus my chances of getting hired, are based on what my voice sounds like: how high or low I can sing, as well as the “color” or “timbre” of my voice. Does it sound bright and shimmery? Is it dark and rich? Are my high notes stronger than my low notes, or vice versa? Can I move my voice very quickly to fit a lot of notes into a short amount of time, or am I better at singing long, drawn-out phrases?

In case you forgot what you learned in elementary school music (and who can blame you), there are four basic voice types out there: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, in order from highest to lowest. Within each of those very broad categories, there are many, many subcategories. For example, a woman who fits into the “soprano” category could be a lyric soprano, a dramatic soprano, a spinto soprano, a coloratura soprano, a lyric coloratura soprano, a dramatic coloratura soprano, a “lyric soprano with an extension,” a soubrette… the list goes on and on, and there are similar subcategories for the other large types as well. Each just means that a singer can do something slightly different with his or her voice, and the system (invented in Germany and called the fach system) is an attempt to simplify life for singers and casting directors.

What’s my voice type, you ask? Right now I consider myself a soubrette soprano. This means that I have a light, agile voice and can sing quite high, but I haven’t quite grown into a full-blown coloratura soprano yet. After all, 26 is just a baby in the world of opera.

Being a soubrette, the roles available to me are fairly limited and are all of a similar ilk. I sing a lot of Mozart, whose music I absolutely adore, and many of the roles I can do are maids and young ladies. Sadly, even once my voice has reached its full size, I will probably never sing some of the great heroines of opera, like Mimì in Puccini’s La bohème or Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata. And because of my teeny tiny physical size, I will never be formidable enough to sing a role like the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. These things matter in casting.

Luckily for me, some of the best roles out there, such as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro (which I’ve already had the pleasure of performing twice), were written for someone with exactly my voice. Until my voice is ready for bigger repertoire, I’m happy to be singing what I can.

Me as Susanna in "The Marriage of Figaro" in grad school.

Me as Susanna in “The Marriage of Figaro” in grad school.

(More) Brazilian Candy Acquired!

While we were in Rio, we asked our friends what kinds of food and goodies we should bring home. Instead of simply giving us a list, they handed us a bag full of candy that they had personally picked out. Naturally, all of them were ridiculously yummy and addicting, and some of them disappeared before we even landed back in San Francisco.

One of my favorites was the Bis, a wafer covered in chocolate similar to a Kit-Kat bar, but not being from the US, it was of course better. We brought back four of them, and three were gone within about two days of us coming home (I’m not ashamed). So T, tired of me hoarding all the chocolate, found these Bis bars on Amazon and ordered them. And look what already arrived this morning:

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Yummmmmmmmmmm. It’s going to be hard to save some for T, but I’ll do my best.

Interested in what else we loved about Rio? Check out two of our favorite spots: Pão de Açúcar and Cristo Redentor.

Rio de Janeiro: Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) and Final Thoughts

On our final day in Rio, we ventured up to Pão de Açúcar, the mountain formation in the bay that is almost as iconic a sight as Cristo Redentor. This was a somewhat frightening adventure for me, since I’m terrified of cable cars, but I managed to survive FOUR different ones and make it all the way to the top of the upper mountain! There’s not a lot to say about it, other than the views are fantastic and it’s an absolute must if you’re ever in Rio.

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View from the lower mountain.

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Looking up towards the upper mountain.

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Corcovado, where Cristo Redentor resides (you can just barely see him).

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Can you say “terrifying” in Portuguese?

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Looking back down the cables at the end of the upward journey.

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On the backside of the upper mountain are several hiking trails. They looked tough, so we didn’t go far, but it was beautiful.

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Incredible, no?

There were tons of other little things we enjoyed about Rio that didn’t warrant their own posts.* I could tell you about the sucos (juices) that you can buy on every street corner, the fresh pão de queijo (cheese bread) that makes my mouth water just thinking about it, the dinner we had in a Brazilian steakhouse where a German tourist group kept bursting into spontaneous song, the hippie fair in Ipanema that was the best arts and crafts fair ever… the list goes on and on.

*For more details about what to do in Rio, check out Julie’s blog, Alone With My Tea. She lives there, after all.

All in all, T and I both felt like we got as much out of our time in Rio as we possibly could. To be honest, if we had been choosing anywhere in the world to go on vacation, we probably would have chosen somewhere like Germany, or maybe Hawaii. I don’t think we would have ventured to Brazil if we hadn’t had friends living there who probably won’t be living there in another six months or so. But in the end, we’re so glad we did!

Can’t get enough of Rio? Read about how we managed to get ourselves there and coped with the language barrier, and the various sights we saw: Christ the Redeemer, downtown Rio, and the glorious beaches.

Rio de Janeiro: Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

All you have to do is type the words “Rio de Janeiro” into a Google image search, and the first many photos will be Cristo Redentor. It makes sense, being that it’s a massive statue of Jesus overlooking a gorgeous bay. There was no way we weren’t going to head up to Corcovado to check it out.

To be completely honest, I’m not sure how we got there exactly. The four of us got in a taxi and got out on a random street corner, where we bought train tickets at a little unsuspecting kiosk. We hopped on for a half-hour ride up the rainforest mountainside, which provided us with some beautiful views… but nothing like what we would get at the top.

Views from the train ride up.

Views from the train ride up.

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At the top of the mountain, we got off the train below the base of the statue and climbed another couple of flights of stairs to get to the base. There was a lower platform with a gift shop at the back of the statue, one more flight of stairs, and then… there he was.

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So much bigger than I expected.

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There were also some incredible views from the front of the statue.

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It was hard not to feel the presence of Jesus in that place, and not just because of his size. The way he looks over the city with his arms outspread makes it seem as though he is constantly watching and protecting the world. As a Christian, I know that’s the truth, and as silly as it may sound, seeing a representation of Jesus larger than life brought it a little closer to home for me.

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As Julie said, “Husband, friends, and Jesus. What else do you need?”

Check out another one of Rio’s major landmarks, Sugarloaf, and the important words we needed to know to get to all these cool places.

Rio de Janeiro: Exploring Downtown Rio

By the middle of our trip, T and I were off on our own and feeling confident that we could navigate around the city a little bit. We took the metro from Copacabana into Centro, the downtown area of Rio, and checked out some of the sights recommended by Peter and Julie.

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Me in front of the Municipal Theatre, because duh.

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The Lapa aqueduct.

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The beautiful Lapa mosaic steps.

Me and T on the Lapa steps.

Me and T on the Lapa steps.

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Loved the little shout-out to Will Smith in the middle of Centro.

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Confeitaria Colombo, an unsuspecting-from-the-street but huge and beautiful café.

After several hours of walking, it was time to head back to the beach… but not before stopping to buy T a nice, squishy pair of Havianas.

Wondering what else to do in Rio? I recommend Cristo Redentor, Pão de Açúcar, or simply chilling on the beach.

Rio de Janeiro: Beach Time

If you read my first post about Rio, you know that everything leading up to us actually touching ground in Brazil was a total nightmare. Once we landed, though, everything turned around (literally, since we were suddenly in the southern hemisphere and experiencing the exact opposite weather from what we had just escaped). From the minute we saw the faces of our friends Peter and Julie waiting for us outside customs, our time in Rio was fantastic.

One of the biggest draws of Rio is, of course, the beach (or praia). Peter and Julie live near Praia Barra da Tijuca, which we walked to several times during our visit. It’s much less crowded than the other, more popular, touristy beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana, where we spent the latter half of our trip.

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Praia Barra da Tijuca.

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Happily reunited with the lovely Julie of Alone With My Tea!

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T and me on Praia Barra da Tijuca, on our first day there. The perfect cure for jet lag, especially when you land at 3 AM local time.

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A pre-storm sunset on Praia Barra da Tijuca.

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Bubbles in the surf.

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Copacabana, where we spent a few days in the latter part of our trip.

Relaxing on the beach was just one of the highlights of our time in Rio. Some of my other favorite spots in the city were centro, or downtown, Christ the Redeemer, and Sugarloaf. Also, here are the language basics that will help you get to all those places.

Rio de Janeiro: Language

I consider myself fairly well-traveled for my age. When my brother and I were kids, our parents felt that travel was an important part of our social education, so we were lucky enough to see much of the US, as well as parts of Canada, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland, and England before either of us were in college. On a college choir tour, I got to cross Hungary, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic off my list.

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Apparently I loved to travel before I even knew I did.

You’ll notice, though, that on all of those trips I was either a kid with my parents in a fairly English-friendly country, or in a large group (something like 200 students) with tour buses, guides, and a very specific agenda that involved many hours of rehearsals and performances. All in all, I’ve never had to struggle with the language in any country to which I’ve traveled.

Really, I’ve always been good with languages. I studied Spanish in high school, I’m self-taught enough in Italian to be able to carry on a conversation, and I can fake my way through German thanks to my musical and operatic studies (though most of the words I know have to do with love, nature, death, or technical musical terms). Plus T studied German in college and can hold his own.

All of a sudden, though, we found ourselves in a country that didn’t speak any of the languages with which we’re familiar, including English. Turns out that despite its touristy/spring break-y/Carnaval-y image, almost no one in Brazil has even basic English skills. Hello, culture shock.

Happily, we had two things going for us:

1. Friends who live in Brazil, one of whom grew up there, and speak Portuguese. Though neither of them would classify themselves as fluent, they obviously knew much more than we did and were able to translate pretty much everything for us for the first several days we were there. We wouldn’t have survived the trip without them.

2. Portuguese lessons on Duolingo. Having been fairly successful using Duo to teach myself Italian, I decided to do some basic Portuguese on it in the weeks before we left. It ended up being really useful because I became familiar with the sound of the language and the somewhat counterintuitive pronunciation rules in addition to learning some basic vocabulary, and I was able to use what I had learned once T and I were on our own for part of our trip. (Consider this a plug for Duolingo as well––it’s a fairly comprehensive learning system that feels like a big game, and it’s free.)

In T’s words, “Know the sounds, not the words.” If you’re aware of and can recognize the pronunciation rules and the ways that they differ from Spanish or Italian (assuming you’re familiar with either of those languages), you’ll probably be able to figure out more than you’d expect. Here’s a basic pronunciation guide that was sent to me by Julie, my friend who lives there:

“r” at the beginning of a word: “h” (real, the currency, is pronounced “hay-OW”)
“rr” in the middle of a word: “h” (Barra, our friends’ neighborhood, is pronounced “BA-ha,” like Baja California)
“o” at the end of a word: “oo”
“a” in the middle of a word: “uh” (morango, “strawberry,” is pronounced “mor-UHN-goo”)
“t”: “ch”
“d”: sometimes “j,” but not always
“e” at the end of a word: “ee”
“ch”: “sh”
“j”: “dzh”
“em,” “en,” or “in”: the final consonant is pronounced like a swallowed “ng” sound

Here are some of the words and phrases we found most useful:

Estou aprendendo português (es-TOH ah-pren-DEN-doo por-too-GUESS): “I am learning Portuguese.” We said this at the beginning of many of our interactions with locals, which instantly made them smile and become much more willing to help us out.

Você fala ingles? (vo-SAY FAH-lah een-GLES): “Do you speak English?” This usually followed right after the above, and almost every single person responded with an apologetic head shake.

Água sem gás (AH-gwa same gahs): “Water without gas,” or non-fizzy water. In the US we call fizzy water mineral water, but in Brazil mineral water just means spring water that’s safe to drink. We had to specify that we wanted water without gas (I had done this before in Europe, so it was no surprise).

Obrigado/a (oh-bree-GAH-doo/dah): “Thank you.” Almost always shortened to ‘brigado (if you’re male) or ‘brigada (if you’re female), and sometimes even with the final vowel dropped off. This was definitely the word we used more than any other words combined.

Não (hard to write out phonetically because it’s a nasal sound): “No.” Combined with “obrigado,” we said this a lot to the beach vendors walking by every five seconds trying to sell us food, drinks, ice cream, frozen juices, jewelry, hats, sunglasses, clothes, henna tattoos…

Sim (seeng): “Yes.” No explanation necessary.

Conta (CONE-cha): “Check.” We didn’t have to use this one often, but it’s helpful to know how to ask for the check when you’re done eating and tired of waiting on less-than-stellar customer service.

Banheiro (bahn-YAY-roo): “Bathroom.” Don’t use “banho,” pronounced like Spanish “baño” or Italian “bagno,” because that refers to an actual bath or shower.

Barraca (ba-HA-ka): “Umbrella,” like a beach umbrella. You can rent them at the beach.

Cadeira (ka-DAY-ra): “Chair,” like a beach chair. You can rent these at the beach along with your barraca, and in fact no one brings their own chairs to the beach.

I would also recommend knowing the numbers one through twelve or so. We only knew a few and did a lot of finger-holding-up, but it would have been better if we had known the words for them.

The bottom line is, you can’t rely on people knowing English in Brazil, and I’m very glad I took the time to learn a little bit of Portuguese on my own in advance. The Brazilians certainly appreciated the fact that we were at least trying to speak their language, and it made them much more sympathetic to us. In my mind, that’s part of achieving perfect harmony: being willing to work at integrating into a different culture, even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable. Isn’t that what you’d expect from a foreign visitor to your country?

Looking for more info? Check out my list of important things to know before you go to Brazil, as well as a cool area to explore once you’re there.

Rio de Janeiro: Preparation

You know what they say: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Or, to put it another way, “You’ve got to roll with the punches.” (Isn’t that in a song somewhere?)

My husband T and I just returned from a little-over-a-week-long trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We began fake-planning this trip back in July 2013, when one of my best friends from grad school, Julie at Alone With My Tea, married a Brazilian-American and moved to Rio shortly thereafter.

T and I often have a habit of being all talk; that is, we develop a crazy idea to do something, discuss it a lot, and then don’t actually end up following through. But this time I was determined. I’d never been to South America, and he’d never traveled outside of the US. Plus, we’re only 26, we have no kids, and we both had the week off from work due to President’s Week. Why not take off for one of the world’s most stereotypical Carnaval/spring break destinations?
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Christ the Redeemer, one of Rio’s most iconic sights.

Well, we found out why not pretty quickly.

Every single step leading up to our trip, up until the moment we actually touched ground in Rio, was a complete disaster. In the sickest manifestation of Murphy’s Law I’ve ever experienced, everything that could go wrong went horribly wrong. The list includes, but is not limited to:

1. Discovering much too late in the planning process that US citizens are required to have a tourist visa to enter Brazil. Yes, a tourist visa. Having only ever traveled to western Europe before (and Canada and Mexico), I never even knew that was a thing. This little surprise ended up costing us roughly $1,200 after rushing every possible piece of paperwork for the visas.

2. A subcategory in the visa saga, in which T went to the passport office in San Francisco to get his first-ever passport using same-day service. That would have gone fine if he hadn’t gotten his car impounded while in San Francisco for having expired registration. (We eventually retrieved both the car and his shiny new passport.)

3. Several work opportunities that arose for me during the week that we were planning to be in Brazil, including the chance to sing with a local company that I’ve been trying to get into for four years now. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried a little as I emailed them to turn down the offer.

4. Both legs of our flight to get there. The plan was to fly from San Francisco to Charlotte, NC, and then on to Rio. My brother, who lives an hour away from Charlotte, warned me earlier in the week about an incoming storm that could affect our flight(s). Sure enough, the afternoon before we left, I checked online to discover that our first flight had been canceled. After much panicking and spending an hour and a half on hold with the airline, we managed to get rebooked on an earlier flight from SF to Charlotte (I still don’t get how that worked out). We got up at 3:15 AM and made it to Charlotte just fine, but I knew it was going to be trouble when we landed in this:

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Sure enough, trouble. We sat around the Charlotte airport for seven hours, waiting for our flight to Rio to leave around 10:30 PM. Long story short, that didn’t happen. We ended up spending the night on the floor of the airport and finally, mercifully, managing to take off in the snow around 3:00 the following afternoon, seven hours after we were already supposed to have landed in Rio.

From there, it all got infinitely better, and I have lots of good things to post about our actual time in Rio (and our trip home was uneventful, which was a plus). But if I had to summarize, here are my paperwork/logistical suggestions for you if you’re planning a trip to Brazil in the future:

1. Plan your trip at LEAST six months in advance. Buy plane tickets right away, because you have to show your travel itinerary when you apply for visas.

2. Apply for passports immediately if you don’t have them, and visas immediately if you do. You need a passport first because you have to put the passport number on the visa application.

3. If you apply for visas as far in advance as I’m suggesting, you won’t need to use a third party agency, which was what cost us so much money. The time cushion should ensure that you can get an appointment at your nearest Brazilian embassy (we couldn’t). If you live too far away from an embassy, you’ll have to use a third party agency, but the cost isn’t extravagant if you don’t have to rush.

I do want to say, in closing, that once we got there and began to explore and enjoy Rio, it was all worth it. Don’t be discouraged by the hoops you might have to jump through. In reality, it’s not that bad as long as you’re prepared.

Interested in learning more about Rio? Here are my tips for managing the Portuguese language, as well as one of my favorite spots in the city.