from Sandy Needham

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Brazil Dispatch 13

August 5, 2007

Before I begin to catch you up on life on Cotovelo Beach, I must issue a general invitation to all of you represented in Dispatch 12 on behalf of my dear friend, Ack - Tom Ackley. He was quoted in that dispatch about his move to Costa Rica. He knows he would love to sit and yack with any of you after reading Dispatch 12, and I guarantee that all of you would love to sit and yack with Ack! Well, you're invited to visit him in Costa Rica!! His e-mail is: .

I am more in love than ever with our tranquil house, our unspoilt beach, and my very graceful husband! I continue to resist driving off to run errands (no choice - need groceries) in favor of yoga, reading, writing, painting the new mail box, sewing the new curtain to hide the defunct shower in the downstairs bathroom, etc. We watch downloads of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to bring laughter to the outrage (the funniest show ever is the July 30th), and are catching the last season of "The Sopranos" on our slightly behind satellite HBO (don't tell me what happens!!).

Well, we've managed a few good discoveries recently:

We called to confirm that the symphony was performing on the last Tuesday of the month as Fidel (the man selling us the house) had mentioned. They responded that this month it was the ballet company performing. A ballet company in Natal? Who knew, and if they knew, how did they know? Off we went. It was superb!! Choreography, very sophisticated; orchestra, completely professional; and the dancers, female and male, fantastic! Who knew? It was one of those oddities here: something exceptionally refined in the midst of what one might expect - an unruly audience. Once the conductor raised his baton (at the appointed hour, I must add), there was no change in the level of chatter throughout the theater! It did subside when the dancing began, except for outside the rear lobby door, which remained open. Still, the ballet gave me a whole new impression of our city.

Then we found the Blues, complete with mad harmonica. One night while Newt and I were gabbing away in English at our neighborhood bar, Jumanji, hopefully not saying anything rude since no one in tiny Pium speaks a word of English, this guy at the next table says, "It's good to hear that American English." After we picked our jaws up, we met Leo, a Brazilian from Minas Gerais who lived in New England for five years. Leo is a musician (along with his wife). We went to one gig where he played bass and she sang lovely bossa nova, then this week he had a gig playing bass with an amazing Brazilian blues band who can sing mo' and chile just right. Except for the nearly unbearable smoke and the 11:15 starting time for the 10:00 show, we were willingly immersed in the blues till past 2:00 on a school night.

And that set the mood for meeting my first Americans (besides the missionaries). So I arrived at the fields where the man cuts lettuce, arrugula, parsley, watercress, spinach and basil out of the ground (all of the above for $2), and another car was there with a group of Brazilian guys buying greens. I spoke to them a bit, and one asked if I was American. I told him I didn't know any Americans here and he said his neighbor in the next beach town, Pirangi, was Carlos from Florida. Then Carl called: yes he's from Tampa, but was born in...Tulsa!! Couldn't believe it! He got us invited to a party at Sinara's, a woman who was a Brazilian vice consul in Washinton D.C. and LA. It was a beautiful, relaxed dinner party by her gorpeous pool. We met other American men and an Aussie, mostly retired with Brazilian wives, plus there are two more American women for me to meet in Pirangi who couldn't come. Carl and his wife, who is from Manaus in Amazonas and is visiting there now, spend about half the year here and half in Tampa. He has a couple of patents, a business in Florida, fishes three hours a day, speaks Japanese and Portuguese, stands straight as an arrow and seems much younger than he is. I was very taken by his unassuming and kind Okie ways and crystal intelligence.

We also discovered the next city down the coast, João Pessoa, in the state of Paraíba. This city has the official easternmost point in the Americas. It is a little smaller than Natal and has less mix of elegance-next-to-slum (i.e. elegance-next-to-elegance). We drove for two hours from here and found a hotel on the impressive Tambaú beach - impressive because of its vast expanse so fittingly planned for a rich community life. The Friday and Saturday night life along the string of barracas (beach restaurants) and more formal restaurants
was vitalized by crowds of middleclass locals of all ages. We are not sure if the city has less poor people or if the poor frequent other beaches, but beggars were at a minimum and clientele at a maximum. There was an underlying calm to the whole scene, as the music was live in one place or another - not too loud - and the deafening push-cart CD vendors were absent! Our Saturday at the beach was highlighted by two 'hot dog' kite-surfers doing multiple 360's twenty feet in the air. A delicious dinner at a fancy outdoor restaurant featured a large screen with the Pan-
American Games' men's volleyball final between Brazil and the USA (sorry, USA), followed by a live band on a stage playing jazz, samba, and pop favorites with a vocalist reminiscent of Phoebe Snow. It was divine. Sunday we explored and landed on Tabatinga Beach, hanging out all day at the rustic barraca in the photo. We like João Pessoa very much and will return, but it doesn't have our house, and I strangely like the poverty/wealth mix that one finds in most places in Brazil.

The rainy season has just rather suddenly relented to the windy season of August and September. The sea is getting more aqua again, the sky bluer, and the lettuce blows off our plates at lunch! We had a series of visiting birds passing through the last couple of months, adding their new voices to the sound of surf and balmy palms (and obnoxious rooster). One day there were black magpies in our tree. Unfortunately the stray feral cats do not move on and are partial to the reliability of our garbage in the absence of year-round neighbors. Our yelling and clapping only scatter them temporarily. Excuse me, an iguana just ran into our kitchen! Can you find it in this picture?

Newt and I finally figured out how to get the new yellow umbrella to stay put on the beach in the wind, so on the weekends we love to traipse the two-minutes to Cotovelo with the beer cooler, books, umbrella and chairs. Even though this beach is never crowded, there is plenty of entertainment: the occasional heavy gust with smarting sand and beer-protecting postures; a fabulous kite-surfer blowing by; the intriguing velocity of a plastic coke bottle rolling mesmerizingly down the beach as far as we could see; the industriousness of a small white crab, arriving in a rapid lateral maneuver, black eyes divulging its presence as it digs out its tunnel; the local poor kids trying to fly their plastic bag kites on old unwound cassette tape.

I am between books. A couple of books from the current fare didn't hold up well after Ulysses, but then I tackled the incredible Underworld by Don DeLillo. He made me believe I was really in the middle of so many scenes from the second half of the twentieth century. The themes are so haunting - I cannot move on to another book without simply mentally savoring this one a little while. Every time I head for the hammock with a book after lunch, I hear my Mother's after-lunch voice from my childhood summers saying, "You don't have to go to sleep, you just have to lie down with a book.

Special feel better wishes to Steve, Dick and Neil.


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