February 15, 2015
Anyone who has traveled in India, North Africa or the Middle East knows the ritual of a visit to Uncle Tonoose’s carpet shop. In South America there is a VERY upscale version of that trip. H. Stern Jewelers is based in Rio with stores internationally. In Latin America a favorite of many tourists is the H Stern Shuttle. It picks up people at hotels and at cruise ships and takes them to their store in whatever town they are located. (They also publish very good pocket sized walking maps of many of the cities they have stores.) The stores also have good free Wi-Fi which also attracts cruise ship passengers. One day we used the shuttle in Buenos Aires to get from the port to downtown. H Stern’s world headquarters is in Ipanema. It’s one of the places on my list, the shuttle is free so why not?
In BA we went into the store, collected our souvenir charm for a charm bracelet, talked for the nice lady for a few minutes and moved on. In Rio you can do that (here the free gift is an agate key chain) but here they also have a jewelry museum and we decided why not? The museum shows where different gems come from in South America and demonstrates how they are cut, polished, graded, set and finished. The interpretative panels are very well done but even better they have craftsmen and artists working in windows and you can watch them, no flash camera please. The self-guided tour with headphones takes about 11 minutes. After that you are shown into the showroom. You can walk right through but when invited for a coffee, tea, water, or all three, while “we show you what we have and let you feel it against your skin,” we thought, again, why not? While the sales people spoke impeccable English and were dressed fashionably in suits and ties or else carnival glitter t shirts and feathers the routine is much the same as uncle Tonoose, chat, laying out the goods, more chat, some more tea and the pitch, unlike uncle Tonoose, ever so soft, like a bosa nova. H Stern has an international reputation to uphold and I doubt they would sell things that were not high quality. Uncle Tonoose? Sometimes good stuff, sometimes, well…
The goods that H Stern showed us started at around $8,000. By the time we finished going through three rooms, we were down to 38 bucks. As a rule, and this does not completely hold, the smaller the piece the larger the price. We admired each peace and admitted “yes it is beautiful.” Suzi kept coming back to the fact that we live in rural Alaska. We had water, coffee and a nice Brazilian cocktail, a caiprinhas, made of sweet Brazilian rum and lime. When I finally said that we didn’t have a functioning dry cleaner in our town and a piece that would set off a suit or gown would not really do we started seeing things that more fit our lives and tastes. I enjoyed the experience, the rap was like listening to Jobim. But I enjoy Uncle Tonoose too. Once through the showrooms we were in the internet lounge, where I heard one guy ask if H Stern was Howard Stern. I don’t think so. Then we were onto the streets of Ipanema. H Stern even made sure we got back to the ship in time for a nap and supper before our all-night session at the samba parades.
During carnival streets are blocked off because of Bandas, or street parades, Blocas, neighborhood block parties. Because of the way traffic flows during Carnival we went to Ipanema through a tunnel right under the Corcovado where Christ the Redeemer statue sits. On the way to the tunnel we went past the staging area, near the port, where the carnival floats assemble. Some of the floats are built in the old port warehouses. We came home along Copacabana beach past the Copacabana Palace and then along a lagoon with great views of Sugar Loaf.
Ipanema has its Banda, or carnival parade, this afternoon. The H Stern shuttles are blocked in by the parade. I wanted to attend and H Stern said that they could probably get us back to the ship in time to pick up our tickets to the Sambodormo if the Ipanema parade ended on time. But tickets for the big show tonight are hugely expensive and since the streets of Ipanema unpredictable during the parade we decided to leave before 2 PM and take a nap. But before going back we did get to the kid’s Bloca in Ipanema, which was great fun with costumed little ones mostly shooting flocking and shaving cream at each other from aerosol cans. There were lots of confetti, streamers, soap bubbles and ice cream.
Then we had a wade in the water at Ipanema Beach and a walk along its corniche. The beach has some swimmers but the red flag warning of bad currents was flying so most athletic activity revolved around beach volleyball. One variant we watched did not allow the players to use their hands, only their heads and chests. It looked like good practice for football (what we call soccer.) We walked along the margins of the beach where the incoming tide meets the sand and getting our sandals wet in the warm South Atlantic until it was time to go back to H Stern and the shuttle to the ship.