About Kyle Rolnick

Kyle Rolnick

Kyle Rolnick fell in love with traveling at a young age while touring the U.S. crammed into an old minivan with his large family. That love has taken him all over the world, including a year-long stay in India.
After graduating from college, he worked at a law firm in San Francisco and then moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he arrived speaking not a word of Portuguese, ready to tackle yet another new city.

He still resides there, teaching English to a variety of students, including those preparing to enter the Instituto Rio Branco, Brazil's only school of diplomacy. In his free time, Kyle likes to read and make music. You can find his work at www.myspace.com/kylerolnick.

Kyle is a native of Madison, Wisconsin and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Latest Posts by Kyle Rolnick

The Downfall of E-Ink?

November 1, 2010 by  

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English-language books are hard to come by in Brazil, and when you find them, they’re often overpriced. That’s why I asked my girlfriend’s friend to bring me a Kindle from his trip to the U.S. about a month ago. I can definitely say that , except for my laptop, which is absolutely necessary for work, the Kindle has been the most useful piece of technology I’ve picked up in many years.

The two main things that make it so great are the price (of both the e-reader itself and the books) and the e-ink. The device itself is not very expensive, and it could even get cheaper considering that Amazon gets money from the purchase of books in addition to sales of its reader. The books themselves are , on average, slightly cheaper than the print versions, which is nice. You can always sample books and I do that frequently to get a taste of a few before purchasing. Although for most people the selection may seem slightly limited, for me it’s a godsend to have a huge selection of books when I previously had to search through a shelf or two of classics and random books in a bookstore here in Rio (hmmm, more Dickens, a book on losing weight…). Equally attractive, though, is the e-ink. When I first got it, I was really struck by how the ink seems to jump out at you. The text is clear and crisp, and I can even read PDFs that I find online with ease.  Most importantly, I can read for a really long time without tiring my eyes.

And that is what makes Barnes & Noble’s recent move so disappointing. B&N has decided to go with a color, e-inkless ‘e-reader’ instead of trying to compete with the next generation of e-ink-based e-readers. Admittedly, it’s probably not a terrible business move. Amazon played its cards right, and with its latest Kindle, it’s dropped the price and improved the technology (better contrast, faster page turns, more space, etc.). Instead of competing with the Kindle, B&N has decided to create an inexpensive tablet. And priced at about half the price of the cheapest iPad, it just may be somewhat successful at competing with the iPad because there must be many people sitting around who want the iPad but, for now, can’t justify splurging on what is a large, albeit very beautiful, toy. The new Nook uses Android, so we’re basically seeing the battle currently being fought among smartphone providers developing in the tablet market.

The problem is, B&N still calls its Nook an e-reader. I think any device that skips over a technology that is essential to reading books comfortably should be called something else. In my book, the new Nook is a books-focused tablet (or, in other terms, a relatively weak tablet). Just check out the features.  Although the list clearly focuses on reading, there is a web browser that will allow you to visit ‘your favorite websites.’  It will integrate Android apps. So, apps, a backlit color screen and a fully functional (I assume) web broswer? Sounds like a tablet to me.

Sadly, I have read online that some people think the e-reader category itself is pointless. For many of these people, e-ink really doesn’t matter, and a device is only as good as its UI, the number of applications it integrates into its package and the power it gives you (processing power, battery life, etc.). Integration isn’t bad, although I think we could all use some straightforward devices to keep ourselves focused these days, especially considering the fact that we spend, on average, a few minutes on each Internet page. But attention issues aside, I can admit that the ability to listen to mp3s on my Kindle is quite nice, and the Kindle has a web browser, although I don’t use it. There is something to be said, however, for the clear difference between e-ink and a backlit screen. Instead of tossing e-ink aside, I think we should let the integration happen in different realms (mobile devices, tablet computers, e-readers, etc.).

Honestly, how many books have you read on a computer screen? Is it because of the mobility it lacks, the strain on your eyes, or something else?  Do we think there is a difference between reading a few pages on a topic and reading a book? If so, can we agree that e-ink technology has a place in our future?

I certainly hope so, because as long as there’s a place for e-ink, there will be competition that will push it to new places. Otherwise, in a few years I may be stuck with a lot of backlit screens or a bunch of expensive, random books.  I think in this case the sleeker, more colorful devices just don’t do the trick. They’re flashy and they’re fun, but functionally, they don’t cut it.

On a sidenote, I’m also disappointed in the direction B&N is going because it recently came out with an application focused on students. As any student will tell you, it’s terrible to have to lug around a ton of books, but for now, the selection and ability to take notes on an e-ink e-reader is just not there.

A Taste of Japan in Rio de Janeiro

October 15, 2010 by  

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Rio is a city with a lot of fun things to do. You can wake up, take a walk on the beach, go for a good hike, visit a museum and end the day with a great night out in one of Rio’s many samba/rock/dance clubs. Unfortunately, eating out in the city is not always so simple.  The prices aren’t terrible, but Rio’s streets, outside of the hyper-rich areas of Leblon and Ipanema, are filled with tiny ‘lunchonettes’ that all make the same food.  Rio’s dining scene doesn’t compare to New York’s or Paris’. This usually doesn’t bother me too much because I don’t eat out very often. But when I suddenly get an urge for something different—Japanese, Indian, Ethiopian – my options are much more limited here than they were even in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

Still, I’ve gotten a chance to try out a few Japanese restaurants here in Rio. People say that the Japanese food in São Paulo is actually much better than anything you can get here. I can believe that, given São Paulo’s large population of nipo-brasileiros. But I still think that one restaurant in Rio, at least, deserves mention.

I have gone to Samurai over and over. The very first thing that appealed to me was Samurai’s awesome location next to Flamengo Park, which is a great place to take a walk, lie on Flamengo Beach or play sports. The restaurant doesn’t only benefit from its surroundings, though; once you step through the front door you find a beautiful space. It’s a little bit cramped, especially when full, but the decor is lovely. The sushi chef stands behind an appealing wooden display filled with food for the rodízio, there are Japanese paintings on the wall, and the interior is painted in neutral tones, making the atmosphere very calming, but not so dull as to be soporific. Samurai’s service, however, is truly standout. Rio has notoriously bad customer service. In fact, I’ve heard locals and tourists alike complain about it. But Samurai has super friendly and attentive waiters and staff. 

But above all, obviously, is the food, which is delicious and fairly inexpensive for a nice night out. You can choose from various types of sushi and sashimi, and combination dishes with both included. You can also enjoy a few types of udon dishes and a variety of other Japanese fare. In addition to the Japanese dishes, the restaurant also serves some Chinese food, but I wouldn’t recommend going there for Chinese. It seems like most people go for the Japanese, and there are restaurants in Rio that specialize in Chinese food.

Samurai looks even better when you consider your other options. I recently went to Key Zen, another Japanese restaurant, in Copacabana, and was very disappointed. The food was mediocre, the waiter and staff were rude and rarely present, and the prices were actually a little higher than Samurai’s. I think this may have to do with the restaurant’s location just a few blocks from Copacabana Beach, which is much more famous than Flamengo Park. Any place with many tourists in the area will have inflated prices because of the constant flow of foreigners paying for food with advantageous exchange rates. The location itself must be more expensive, also raising prices. Unfortunately, the food at Key Zen clearly suffers. To add insult to injury, the restaurant was unbearably hot and crowded.  And noise from a huge TV broadcasting Brazilian football games mixed with boisterous conversation at the table of 12 next to my girlfriend’s and mine. We moved outside and sat at a tiny table. Needless to say, it was not the greatest dining experience I’ve had.

So if you’re in Rio, skip Key Zen and do yourself a favor and go check out Flamengo Park and Samurai. They’re well worth it.

Where’s the Brazilian Election Fever?

October 14, 2010 by  

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I moved to Brazil shortly after the 2008 U.S. elections. Those elections were—to put it mildly—exhausting.  The 24-hour news stations broadcasting pedantic pundits; endless debates over the debates; minor scandals that supposedly influence the swing voters. It was all too much. I have to admit getting caught up in it for quite a while, but in hindsight, I think there were rapidly diminishing marginal returns to following the election. In any election, I feel there quickly comes a point at which more information isn’t really going to help you make your decision. Most people seem to decide within the first few months who they’ll vote for.

The positive side of all that, though, was the feeling of seeing democracy in action. People were genuinely interested in all the issues and I got in the middle of many debates about the candidates’ merits and prospects for victory.

Moving to Brazil, then, provided me with a chance to escape the overwhelming political atmosphere in the U.S. News stations don’t dominate the TV landscape in Brazil, and people have talked to me very little about politics—American or Brazilian.

This past Sunday, though, was Brazilian election day. Although there were several candidates, the presidential race was mainly between Dilma Rousseff, of current president Lula’s center-left Partido de Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party), and José Serra, of the center-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democratic Party). Due to a strong showing by a third candidate, Marina Silva, neither of the two favorites got 50% of the vote. In accordance with Brazilian law, Dilma and Serra will compete again in a runoff.

But the details of the election and its results—important as they are—are not really what I want to focus on. Instead, I want to talk briefly about how weird it was that very few people who I know actually cared very much about the election. Many people told me they were going to ‘justificar’—that is, justify to the government why they didn’t vote. Voting is mandatory in Brazil, and these people needed to give some excuse, however thin, to justify their absence at the polls. For some people I talked to, it was a practical issue. They were registered in another city or state and would have had to change their registration. I can understand that. Bureaucratic processes in Brazil aren’t very pleasant. Some other people, however, seemed downright disinterested.

Maybe I’m biased by having lived in very political cities in the U.S. (Madison and Oakland/Berkeley), but I was shocked by their lack of enthusiasm. The 2008 U.S. presidential campaign was an incredible two years long, and many people were interested from the beginning. Here, the campaign officially began in July of 2010, meaning it officially lasted 3 months. Even for those few months, though, the campaign didn’t really dominate the media like it did in the U.S.

Perhaps by living through the U.S. and Brazilian elections I’ve just seen two extremes; whereas one country obsesses, the other remains somewhat detached. And I don’t want to give the impression that the Brazilian election was without scandal, or that nobody obsessed about. But the World Cup garnered much more attention than the election.

And that, I have to say, is a sad statement for a country generating so much buzz with its rapidly-increasing GDP.  People here constantly talk about Brazil’s future as a growing power, yet they turn off when they get to decide what it will look like! Do people think their votes won’t make a difference? Is the lack of interest a product of general dissatisfaction with the government and its many cases of corruption? Is this a result of laws restricting certain types of election coverage?

I don’t really have the answer to these complex questions. And it seems like in the past week or so people have really gotten into the runoff.

I do have one related item that is brillant and totally unserious, though. If you haven’t heard, one of the most bizarre results in the elections last Sunday was the surprise victory of a man who dressed up in a clown’s costume and asked people to vote for him for congress.  Some people claim he is illiterate and therefore unable to take his seat. In any case, here is congressman-elect Francisco Silva from São Paulo:

Transcript: Oi gente, estou aqui pra pedir o seu voto, pus que eu quero ser deputadô deferal, pra ajudar os mais necessitadô, inclusive a minha família. Portanto meu nº é 2222. Se vocês não votarem, eu vou morrrêeeêeee..

(Translation: Hi everyone, I’m here to ask for your vote, because I want to be a congressman to help the neediest people, including my family. So my number* is 2222. If you don’t vote for me, I’ll die!!!)

*Numbers are used to identify candidates in the election.

(Images courtesy of Agência Brasil)

Can You Capture the Best of Brazil?

September 19, 2010 by  

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Cachaça, Brazil’s unique sugarcane alcohol that is part and parcel of any good trip to Brazil, is popular in bars throughout the world. And if you’ve acquired a taste for cachaça and live in the UK, your search for cachaça will soon get a bit easier. Salto Brazil, a maker of cachaça, is launching in the UK.

To kick things off, they’re holding a competition in which UK residents can send in photos of what they think best exemplifies the “Spirit of Brazil.”  The winner will receive 1000 GBP! So if you live in the UK, head over to the website (http://www.saltobrazil.com/competition.php) and give it your best shot.

Céu Show at Circo Voador in Lapa

September 14, 2010 by  

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to see Céu, a great Brazilian artist who has, fortunately, already seen some success outside of Brazil. I heard about her just a few days before the show, when my girlfriend told me she was coming to Rio to perform at Circo Voador, a nice venue in Lapa, which is a neighborhood as famous for its nightlife as it is for its impressive arches that often appear in tourist brochures touting Rio’s attractions.

Lapa is also very gritty. The streets are always packed on the weekend nights, and any night out in Lapa includes wading through crowds of people mulling about and venders selling street food and beer.  Taking a long walk through the crowd is now almost unavoidable in light of a recent decision to close off Lapa’s main roads at night for pedestrians only. Of course, this is part of the fun of going out in Lapa, and surrounding you the whole time are the old buildings that give the neighborhood its unique feel.

On Saturday, we made our way through the arches and lingered outside the venue for a good half-hour, chatting with some friends from São Paulo who happened to be in town and came to see the show. I took in my surroundings and remembered the other shows I have seen at Circo Voador. Many venues are too big, too small, too loud or too quiet. But Circo Voador is different. Its size is small enough for a great, intimate show, and even though they attract many people to see a variety of Brazilian and foreign bands, the place never gets so packed that you can’t wander up to the front to get a better view – and you’ll still have room to dance!

We wandered in as a DJ warmed up the crowd by playing a wide array of music, from 50s American classics to Ethiopian jazz. After we had time to grab some drinks, dance a bit and chat, Céu went on stage. In the U.S., her entrance would be considered very late, but late seems to be the norm here in Brazil. In the U.S., I’ve been to concerts that ended around 10 or 11, but Céu, for example, went on around 12:30 or 1 in the morning.

When Céu started her first song, her energy was palpable. She danced around the stage happily, and she displayed her powerful vocals from the first notes of the Brazilian jazz, samba, and R&B songs that define her style. The five-piece band comprised Céu on vocals, a drummer, a bassist/guitarist, a DJ and a keyboard/accordion player. The mix of instruments was well-balanced, and they created a full, deep sound that had everybody – even the wallflowers – dancing to the beats.  I recognized some songs that my girlfriend and I had listened to before the show, and Céu is an artist that backs up her well-produced albums with a great live performance.

Her repertoire was very upbeat and smooth, and there were no real lulls in the show. She sticks to songs with very strong bass lines and doesn’t seem to have any ballads, so the energy was consistent and the pace of the show was fast.  One small highlight for me was when she played an excellent cover of Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle” – which I had happily come across on Youtube before the show. As the show progressed, people got drunker and louder, and even after she had finished her first set, thanked the audience and come back on stage for an encore, people were still asking for more. She laughed a bit and told the crowd that she was out of songs to perform for the night. She stayed on stage for a bit, trying to think of a song that she could perform, and she eventually thought of one to close out the set and end the night.

Overall, her show was fantastic, and it displayed her voice, range of styles and the balance of the instruments very well. I highly suggest you go to a show of hers if you have the chance. She’s going to be in Germany fairly soon, and she just finished up a tour of the U.S. that ended in April.

Céu’s myspace: http://www.myspace.com/ceumusic

Her Wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Céu

Her latest album, Vagarosa, on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Vagarosa-Dig-Ceu/dp/B002BVUBR8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1284420450&sr=8-2

Parque Da Catacumba in Lagoa

August 31, 2010 by  

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As I mentioned in my first post, Rio possesses a natural beauty that should be immediately apparent to any traveler. I was taken aback by Rio’s distinctive landscape when I flew in over its mountains almost two years ago. From the air, you can see that Rio is nestled among large, gorgeous hills.  On the ground, many of those hills look different, filled with small, closely-packed homes that make up the notorious favelas that are so often depicted in film and images of Rio. Coming from the U.S., it baffled me that some of the city’s poorest residents have what is, in my mind, prime real estate. The hills afford spectacular views of the city and time away from the incessant noise that fills Rio’s streets. Even on my street, which is called a ‘rua nobre’ (‘noble street’) by locals because of its peaceful and safe atmosphere, I’m often woken up in the middle of the night or early in the morning by boisterous party-goers, soccer fans, and even roosters that inexplicably crow at all hours of the night. Today it was hip-hop music blaring from a building across the street early in the morning; tomorrow it may be the construction that happens in the morning, throughout the day and continues fairly late into the night. Few hours in the city provide a respite for the peace-seeking soul.

But the hills can. And so my brother and I decided to hike up a hill this past weekend. We decided on a hill in Parque da Catacumba (Catacombs Park), which is just a 15-minute walk from our apartment.  The entrance of the park faces Lagoa (“lagoon” in Portuguese), a rich neighborhood and popular daytime recreation spot where people can rent bicycles, play basketball or soccer, and drink fresh coconut water from one of the many stands near a bike path that circles the lake. As we made our way past the entrance and into the park, we caught a glimpse of a recently constructed ropes course where people can pay R$15-30 to do a variety of activities, such as zip-lining and rappelling down a small cliff.

Those activities were left for another day, though. We soon reached the foot of the trail that led to two viewpoints – our destinations for the day. It took my brother and I roughly 15 minutes to reach the first lookout point, and when we arrived we relaxed for a long time, taking in views of the lake, ocean, hills, and the buildings pushing up against them. We absorbed the sensation of stillness after so many days down in the city, and had a conversation that moved quickly from one thing to the next while our eyes stayed focused on the gorgeous landscape below. The birds-eye view that I so distinctly remember from my plane ride into the city rushed back into my mind.

I have been fortunate to live in three spectacular cities that have within them small urban getaways. Madison has its arboretum, a large chunk of the city set aside many years ago to restore the area’s natural landscapes. Oakland has its Redwood forest, a place of extraordinary beauty that was just a few minutes from my old apartment. And Rio has its hills and beaches, placing it high on the list of naturally beautiful cities. For travelers who like a little exercise and a chance to see the city from above without having to pay a dime or worry about safety, Lagoa’s Parque da Catacumba is a great option.

Links of interest:

Parque da Catacumba on Google Maps: http://maps.google.com.br/maps?hl=pt-BR&q=parque%20da%20catacumba&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

Parque da Catacumba on Flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=parque+da+catacumba

Brazil: On Nooks and Niteroi

August 10, 2010 by  

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Traveling throughout your neighborhood, city, or country, you quickly realize that you can always find more if you look a bit deeper. Whether you discover a great restaurant around the corner or find an interesting off-the-map town, the world can surprise you with its hidden nooks and crannies.

Living in Rio de Janeiro is no different. And to start off my blogging adventure here at We Blog the World, I thought it would be nice to take the spotlight off of Rio itself and focus for a moment on one of its neighbors—Niteroi.

Niteroi is to Rio what the East Bay is to San Francisco. It lies across Baía de Guanabara (Guanabara Bay), and it is home to some lesser-known travel gems. I have only explored a small fraction of the city (this “nook,” after all, holds roughly 400,000 people!), but it’s my girlfriend’s home, so I get across the bay more often than most Cariocas (Rio natives).

Niteroi provides many opportunities for the exhausted traveler. You can easily go to a beach that isn’t packed, and it also has enticing small bakeries, cafes where you can relax with a book, and tranquil small streets. Even the journey from Rio helps you lose track of time; as you traverse one of the longest bridges in the world (the Rio-Niteroi bridge) your mind drifts—though the incredibly dangerous driving is sure to bring you back to Earth quickly. Perhaps Niteroi’s most striking landmark is the Museu de Arte Contemporânea (the Museum of Contemporary Art), a giant saucer-shaped building designed by Oscar Niemeyer, a famous Brazilian architect whose other works include the United Nations Headquarters in New York and many interesting buildings throughout Brasília, Brazil’s capital.

Sometimes, however, the best thing to do in a city like Niteroi is wander a bit and see what unfolds. That’s certainly my favorite thing to do when I travel. And once in a while, something brilliant appears. For instance, on a trip to visit my girlfriend’s mother last weekend I had to stop, pull out my camera, and take a few pictures of the beautiful event unfolding before my eyes. I was just about to board the bus to head back to Rio when I stopped and looked out on the bay to see the sun about to set, the light illuminating a picturesque, color-drenched landscape. The bright yellows of the day turned into deep blues and purples, and the air felt virtually still. The din of a day’s hustle and bustle was absent. A family played soccer in the sand, and people calmly walked about aimlessly as I pointed my camera and clicked, my own aimless wandering taking me here and there, my eyes looking for yet another angle to capture.

Most people are immediately enamored by Rio’s natural delights. For me, flying in over Rio and seeing islands dotting the water, beaches stretching out along the ocean coast, and mountains rising behind them was enough to get me hooked on the city’s almost mystical landscape. Still, every once in a while it’s nice to get away to the other side of the bay. I would highly recommend it.