from Sandy Needham

Friday, September 14, 2007

Brazil Dispatch 14

September 14, 2007

Greetings from the windy season!

Good news: the 3:14 am crowing rooster next door seems to have been removed. Bad news: a neighboring, vacant vacation house's security alarm goes off night and day. Our caretaker, Marcos, has solved most of the destruction-by-ants to our plants. That did not prevent a particularly huge breed of black ants from making away with every last leaf on our new fruit tree over one night. Note how they left our one pathetic little fruit intact!

Another of our local music discoveries is the jazz-rock band "Mad Dogs," who play their very original Beatles' covers (among other pieces) on Tuesday nights at Sgt. Peppers restaurant. We were lucky to catch them on the night before they flew off to Liverpool to perform for the fourth year at the annual Beatles fest there. Made us proud! Our favorites are 'Michelle' as a tango and a lovely swinging jazz version of 'Things We Said Today.' Our friend Leo jams with them sometimes. Here's the link for a nice treat:

I saw an entire rainbow while walking the high road along the beach one afternoon! One end was in the sand next to the restaurant at the south end of our beach and the other end was in the water about halfway across the expanse. I could even see waves and the horizon through the end! It was so thrilling that I had to say something to somebody, so I spotted a caretaker looking out over a gate and we exclaimed together! This was one rainbow without a pot of gold at the end, but my memories of dancing in an off-off-Broadway production of "Finian's Rainbow" years ago in Manhattan came bubbling up. Who appeared backstage one night but E.Y. ('Yip') Harburg, lyricist of the show ('Look, Look, Look to the Rainbow') and, better yet, of "The Wizard of Oz" ('Somewhere Over the Rainbow'), as well. We were all in awe...sweet little man, who died not long after. And I couldn't escape the memory of one of Elise's and Jake's favorite bedtime songs back when - Kermit the Frog's 'Rainbow Connection.' Guess I did find a pot of gold!

We are still waiting for the house to go into Fidel's name so that he can sell it to us! A judge ruled that he did not need to clear the original owner's name (an impossibility), but as each bureaucratic leap is completed, another requirement is added. Funny how they cannot tell you at the beginning what all is necessary so that actions could proceed simultaneously. Architectural drawings of the house came next, then an inspection. Fidel has reported a couple more obstacles, so in the midst of temporary 'rental' arrangements with him, the process crawls on.

The pace here even makes me apprehensive about grocery shopping:

>I pick a reasonably short line; the guy in front of me is about to finish and THEN...a problem with his card. Off he goes to the front desk where they CALL HIS BANK. I watch the woman laughing on the phone, SO casually. After an eternity, the guy comes back and selects which items he has to forfeit with his limited bank balance. The relaxed cashier carefully runs each rejected item through two different steps on the scanner. Then I am next.

>I pick a reasonably short line, though I am behind a man with a cart piled as high as I've ever seen. He's just about to get his turn when a woman appears and says something to me. I smilingly respond to please repeat slowly. She explains that that man in front of me is her husband and moves her equally piled-high cart in front of me to join him. I am ashamed to tell you what I said to her at that moment in English (assuming she can't understand), but I have a feeling it's sort of an international term at this point.

>I pick a reasonably short line, and the last item from the guy in front of me has been bagged. BUT instead of paying, the customer goes away. I ask the cashier, who's happy and calm as all of them are, always, where the guy's going? Oh, just to the front about his card. I spot the guy in a line behind 6 people emerging from a door. I put all my groceries back into my cart to move to another line. The new line doesn't move, but then we all find out that no debit or credit cards are working right now in any line. These lines will remain in place for an indefinite amount of time. I park my cart with my groceries to the side and huffingly exit the store.

I am counting on a Zen-like response some day, but I'm not there yet.

We had a big event on our corner when the rainy season let up and the sandy dirt road became too soft to drive through. The neighbors had 5 sand trucks arriving to dump sand for fill on their lot. The first truck just sank in there. While the other trucks lined up, another truck barreled past in reverse in our grass, just missing our tree, and lined up with a rope to pull the stranded truck out. Fifth try! Then the drivers grabbed palm leaves and shovels and got the remaining sand trucks through. The corner was impassable for civilian use for weeks. I actually got stuck at two other corners trying to get to our garage by way of other streets, but was saved eventually by 'reverse,' which pitched me out of the sinking sand. Newt called the 'prefeitura' five times to please come smooth out the corner and the huge fault that the rains had formed on the road in front of our house. They finally dumped a pyramid of sand on the corner and left it. Our tiny Marcos took a lone shovel to it. Better. We're still waiting for the fault to be filled in front.

My dear friend from college, Monica Postell, had a job in Rio, then flew up to Natal to visit us. I had not seen her since 1991! My dear friend Maria Candida showed her Rio in grand style over the weekend, and they became friends, too! Monica and I had much to catch up on, plus hammock time, office time with our three computers humming, local explorations, beach hike, dinners out, and a day in a rented dune buggy with our trusty driver, 'Darton,' (named after D'Artagnan). He took us through the dunes north of the city, careful not to make the ride too 'emotional' as they say here. Not easily done. At one point we were heading down a dune in a complete vertical. He took it in slow motion, to his credit, but I was weak for an hour! Monica followed Newt on the 'ski-bunda,' heading down a cable into a lake, less amused than she expected. I watched. We crossed a river on a raft as pictured in the photo, but our buggy was the traditional open kind. We were fascinated by this guy's sculptural exertions.

Cornélia, our maid, invited all of us to her 25th birthday party, which she put on single-handedly. She had tables filled with relatives in the road in front of her very small house (she has 16 siblings) and ran in and out waiting tables alone (we felt strange about this). Two junk VW's were tirelessly parked nearby, filled with air-tight storage (good plan). She had prepared shrimp, soup, barbecue on a little make-shift grill, a triple cake with red frosting and hundreds of little individual pink and red balls of sweets. She had blown up 150 red balloons and strung them in the house and made countless artificial rose arrangements in little glass cubes with white sand and a gold glitter flourish to give out as party favors. She had her nails painted and was dolled up in a darling dress and 4" sandals - a very different look from her work dress here! We enjoyed seeing the other side of her life, her sweet husband, and the impressive fruits of her industriousness. She gave both Monica and me the artificial flower favors when we left. So now we had a problem. The arrangement is just not what I would ever, ever use, but I didn't want Cornélia to feel hurt, especially after she spent way too much money on everything. So Monica and I thought and thought and finally plopped it down around the corner in the kitchen where Cornélia cooks. My eye sees only that now instead of the Matisse poster and red pots and pans I adore, but at least it is not in the living room. Monica had hers prominently emerging from her carry-on bag as she left, planning to deep-six it at the airport. I mentioned, as Monica and I waited in line for her to check-in at the airport, that I hoped none of Cornélia's neighbors work there, retrieve the arrangement from the trash receptacle and report on its near-fate. Hence you can imagine the flutter I got the very next morning when I came down to my computer and discovered Monica's arrangement installed on my little desk. Yikes! Cornélia had made too many and had simply brought us a third one. (Whew...but OH NO!) It ended up rather high on the office shelves out of eye shot.

On September 28th we leave for another marathon trip, beginning with Newton's Mother's 70th birthday celebration in São Paulo. From there we fly to Rome via Madrid for yet another stab at Newt's Italian citizenship (made possible by a great-grandfather from Sardinia). Then we fly to the business partner company near Krakow for the Polish wedding of the owner's daughter (can't wait!) and the fall business meeting with them. Athens is next, then Montpellier on the Mediterranean. Newton will fly to Japan, then to Korea and Shanghai, and I will fly to Boston (Jake's new home). Then NY. My trip will include Tulsa, where I plan to drive my Mother to Arkansas to see her best friend since college, Jean (as in Sandra Jean!). They are both almost 93. Newt and I will rendezvous in Madrid for one day and night before our return to Natal via São Paulo on November 3rd. We each have 18 flights with all the connections. I know I will look forward to sewing tiny stitches on my quilt on the front porch again.
I imagine September has brought its change of rhythm to many of you. Hope you all have a glorious fall. I am counting on fall colors before my return!


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