from Sandy Needham

Monday, January 5, 2009

Brazil Dispatch 22

January 5, 2009

Just ahead of the holiday season we hit the streets for a local, early version of Carnaval. We turned the corner from the live, dancing samba and frevo groups in the street to a large avenue lined with parked cars, all blasting music from the deafening macho speakers in the open trunks. There were as many (bad) songs bludgeoning my ears as there were cars. I felt as if I were walking this gauntlet on the set of a surrealist post-apocalyptic movie (filmed in low neon).

Much more reassuring was the magical lighting of the city's gigantic Christmas tree soon after... well, the tree is actually only lights. The weather was as lovely as it gets, with a happenstance full moon quietly presiding over the ocean to complement the pyrotechnics of the tree, lit fountains, a shimmering Santa's house , and fireworks. New to me: the mayor spoke with his hand and voice in a sort of Roman oratory style...apparently a tradition in the third world, but HILARIOUS. Our eyes were watering, trying not to burst out laughing, and we still giggle about this. The mayor was thundering that Natal was the only city in the world named Natal - "Christmas" in Portuguese. The arrival of Santa on a truck-mounted sleigh with ear-splitting recorded music was simultaneous with the lovely women's choir singing Christmas carols in matching plunge-neck gowns. And in the sparkle refelected in dazzled young eyes, my Christmas spirit was officially ushered in.

Preparations for Elise and Jake's holiday arrival suffered a bit of a set-back when the ex-wife of our caretaker, Marcos, threatened to "put a bullet through the head" of our pretty two days/week maid, Lucia, if she continued to work here. Lucia and the terrorista, Suziane, had never met, but apparently Suziane found a pair of women's underwear at Marcos' house when she was in town with their two daughters that weekend, then found Lucia's number on Marcos' cell phone (for work purposes)...and got jealous and called her. Why? Mind you, since breaking up with Marcos, she already had a baby with another man (who has since abandoned them). Poor people rarely marry and divorce around here because the fees are too high. Perhaps Suziane is worried about sharing Marcos' money with someone else since he supports her and the three girls faithfully. Obviously, the innocent and terrified Lucia came to resign, her husband accompanying her for safety. She was now jobless, we were maidless, and Suziane was banished from ever appearing on our property again. Good thing she doesn't know about Marcos' fiancée in the interior. After some ups and downs, we now have a very nice, homely maid from another part of town.
Newton decided to wind tubular Christmas lights around the coconut trees on each side of our front yard - one in red and the other, green. It looked fantastic! That prompted even more Christmas spirit and made us more impatient than ever for our kids to arrive. Our local, large iguana appeared one morning soon after and started up the cocnut tree with the red lights (not on). He just clung there for the longest time staring at the red tubing, peering around to the side of the trunk to see if any path opened up there. He then very gingerly started up, licking and examining as he went. Then he plopped over onto the branches of the hibiscus bush and started eating the beautiful red blossoms in a single gulp. That's when I was no longer amused and went to shake the hibiscus branches. He returned to the tree and, after staring at the red tubing again for a long while, started up.

Elise and Jake arrived with lots of great presents and all the crucial Trader Joes items we make them schlepp down to us. We had a fantastic two weeks with them here before they went to visit their cousins in São Paulo. All of us hit Cotovelo Beach many times, as well as favorite restaurants and clubs, a boat trip, the largest cashew tree in the world, and a fun New Year's Eve at home. We joined the anonymous neighbors (recently arrived from the city to their beach houses) at midnight on the beach - everyone in white - to jump over seven waves for good luck.
Later we drove over to Ponta Negra Beach to catch a more crowded celebration. On New Year's Day we went to the beautiful Hellenus restaurant atop a cliff. It transports one in the imagination to a Greek isle with all its curving white gesso and ocean view. The fish and shrimp transported us, too!

Elise loves her job at the UltraStar fan club division of Live Nation, about to end because the company is dissolving the division. Once her college graphic design internship turned into a job, she has had amazing creative control - including video shooting, editing, graphic design for websites, DVD and CD covers, plus animated Christmas cards for several rock groups' websites. She arrived here at Christmas with a show & tell of her fantastic Police DVD and Genesis CD covers, on which she is listed for credit. She traveled to various cities to videotape the Jonas Brothers and Il Divo. There are several irons in the fire by which her amazing resume will propel her to continued employment.
Jake's profession seems to circumvent the economic crisis. We had such a fun evening at a bar here called the Bada Bing (owned by a very sweet Dutch guy who's a Soprano's fan), where a friendly, international Texas Hold'em tournament takes place (in English) every Tuesday and Friday. Jake took till 3:30am to win the damn thing, but then picked up the tab for the entire family with part of his winnings. He has had an excellent year in Texas Hold'em, earning 1,000,000 playing points on his poker site to achieve Supernova Elite status. This will send him for free to two live
tournaments this year: Monte Carlo and again to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. He is quite studious about the whole thing and puts his math talent to lucrative use.
We will continue our time with our nascent-adult children next July when we travel to the US. What a relief to inch away from the blame/glory parent role. Oh! They were born that way already. I think I can see that now.

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