from Sandy Needham

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Brazil Dispatch 3

October 3, 2006

OK - so this one will be long, sorry!

I told you we were finally opening a bank account, but we have not been able to make that work, after all, without the required permanent address. Newton's Dad opened one for us in Sao Paulo, but if we write a check to move our money from the US, we must first have the account for 6 months! This is one of the many funny little obstructions of which Brazil is so fond. I will spare you the complications of wiring money, the exchange rate, etc.

We met the owners of our favorite house in Morro Branco. They actually agreed last Tuesday to let us rent the house for a brief period so we could install a radio system with a very tall antenna to determine if this mode of internet access would be sufficient for Newton's work - before committing to buying the house. There is no cable available in the beach town, and the satellite companies only offer large commercial contracts for internet access.

In the meantime, we had found the only Volkswagen Gol with the 1.6 engine for sale in the city of Fortaleza, saving ourselves an additional 20 days of car rental waiting for car delivery. The little red, rather unexciting car was ready for pick-up the next morning. Tuesday evening, Newton had a conversation at our hotel with a guy who works up and down the entire Northeast coast. He was very partial to the smaller city called Natal, down the coast in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. He noted, without any provocation from Newt, that this beautiful place had much less garbage and much more civilized traffic then the other northeast cities.

We had been running around Fortaleza looking at cars and buying the one printer in a Soviet style computer store. The traffic and the streets are so crazy that every errand takes up most of a day. We had found an elaborate, chic restaurant (that actually served decaf espresso!), rising like a white mirage out of the weedy, sandy wasteland going inland from Praia do Futuro - complete with an old horse grazing next to its sign; we had bought exquisite hand woven place mats for our new home from one of the most gorgeous stores I've ever seen; we had checked out the barracas near the beach house, and determined we would never go hungry if we lived near them…but we just felt like everything was some sort of trade-off. We were developing a strong love-hate affair with the outrageous contrasts of Fortaleza. The house was even a compromise, as it sits on the beach but has no view of the beach as other, uglier houses do. SO, we decided that very evening to pick up our new car in the morning and head directly to Natal, 8 hours away, to check it out before moving into our potential new home.

We packed all our suitcases (everything we own here) and stuffed them in the rental car, which, thank heaven, was getting picked up at the car dealership. We mentioned during the paper work on the new car that we were going to Natal, but uh-oh: in Brazil you cannot take a new car out-of-state with the 'temporary' paper must wait until you receive the official form. Our wonderful salesman knew a possible way to get this form by the end of the day, so we went off to get lunch. We realized that the siren-like sound we heard was coming from our new car. The air conditioner has a fan that roars. In our haste to nab the last Gol in the city before some guy returned in an hour to buy it, we had not given it a test drive. A lovely dove-tailing of the service department's attempts (only partially successful) to tame our A/C and the arrival of our official car document enabled us to take off around 6:00pm.

Since driving at night is disconcerting even to the Formula I - Walter Mitty - Newton, we drove only the one hour to Morro Branco and stayed in the dopey little pousada (motel) that is the ONLY place we knew of with wireless internet connection in the rooms. (Newton has continued to work several hours per day since our arrival here.) That left only 7 hours of driving on Thursday. The highway to Natal (pronounced Nah-TOW, and it means ‘Christmas’) goes inland first, then heads east to the shore. It passes through the God-forsaken "sertão” of Newton’s most tedious childhood geography lessons: the semi-arid miles and miles of strangely grey, low thorny growth - with the unlikely appearance of green palm trees at infrequent intervals. Newton even admitted that the idea of Rio Grande do Norte (pronounced Hio Grahndgee du Norchee) was a hurdle for him after the lifelong perception of desolation evoked by the state’s name.

But then we arrived in Natal. It is twice as beautiful and twice as expensive as Fortaleza - but only about the size of Tulsa at around 700,000 people – so 3 times easier to navigate! We found a gorgeous hotel on Ponta Negra beach, which has a mosaic stone ‘boardwalk’ and loads of restaurants. There is even a little Italian café that serves – you guessed it - decaf espresso! This area is full of Scandinavian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and English tourists, some homeowners. Americans are rare also here, but English is the second language. We especially notice the lack of blasting TV’s and music, the cleanliness, and the overall calmness. The mix of tall blonds and Brazilians on the boardwalk gives a checkerboard effect.

On Friday we scouted for ‘For Sale’ signs ALL OVER AGAIN, covering 4 different beaches in one exhausting day. On Saturday morning, having narrowed our preferences down to two beaches, we went to see a beauty that was for sale by the owner, leaving time for an afternoon appointment with a real estate agent. Well – we finally did find THE house for us! We went ahead and saw some houses with the agent to appease Newton’s prudence – the perfect balance to my impetuosity when faced with the ideal house – and, of course, found nothing to compare!
THE house strikes one immediately as an Italian villa, which serves our fantasies of moving to Italy instead of Brazil - an unaffordable prospect. The charming owner is a bon vivant Argentine, so it could pass as a Spanish villa, as well. He and his family have lived there for 14 years as their permanent residence, so, unlike the many vacation beach houses we have seen, this one looks like a real home. Unfortunately, they are taking their beautiful, sophisticated furniture, so we’ll have to furnish it beyond the built-in sofa in the living room. Fortunately, the wife’s taste is impeccable, and there is little about the colorful interior walls I would change. The house is already hooked up to the internet via radio! We have to wait till Wednesday now to discuss our offer, since the owner had to go out of town, so I catch myself pacing from time to time! There most likely will not be a problem settling the deal, and the owner’s bank account is in the US to boot, so we don’t have to have a bank account here to pay him! It is one house away from the beautiful, quiet Cotovelo beach and on a corner, so you get an ocean view from the second floor veranda and have a short, lovely walk to the water. Despite no swimming pool, the yard is overflowing with lush plants. I just love it! Cotovelo Beach is about 10 minutes from Ponta Negra in Natal and about 20 minutes from the airport.

Newt spent ALL of Sunday changing the many airline tickets we had lined up via Fortaleza: Jake’s from California, Elise’s from New York and ours for São Paulo for Christmas, along with ours for the Asia/Europe business trip coming up on October 18th. It took hours! He just negotiated a much better rate for this hotel for the next 16 nights until we go, so we can stay put. They have 70 television channels here, so I have replaced my study of Portuguese via soap operas with CNN news and Italian movies with Portuguese subtitles. Among the Japanese, Arabic, etc. channels, we find the Portuguese from Portugal channel equally unintelligible! It sounds so different. To pronounce my last name in Brazil you do not use the ending “m” sound, which doesn’t exist here. You just say “Needha(n),” holding your nose at the end (or at least feeling a tickle in your nose) to achieve the nasal sound the ‘m’ requires. This applies to the word 'yes' here, for example, spelled 'sim.' I use ‘Sandra’ to avoid the confusion which changes ‘Sandy’ into ‘Sandgee,’

This morning Newton called the lovely owners of the Morro Branco house to inform them we wouldn’t be coming back; they generously offered us kind wishes for happiness. Looks like Natal is our new home!

We send all of you our love -

No comments:

Post a Comment

Click on left arrows below for Archive Dispatch titles.

Blog Archive