from Sandy Needham

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Brazil Dispatch 23

After that eternity since November 4th, Inauguration Day found its way here via CNN International on our satellite TV. I celebrated my re-embracing of the American flag, which no longer had to stand for nastiness, by printing out a small copy and attaching it to our mail box. My TV-less American friend Mary, who had joined us on election night, brought her 10-year-old son to watch the inauguration with us. Marcos, the caretaker, carefully masking-taped the Obama poster from the US to his wall, saving a second one for his mother in the interior. There were a lot of happy people down here that day.

Things really change around here in January. The three houses surrounding us (luckily, we still have the lovely field of coconut trees across the road in front) fill up with relatives and guests for a month-long party. Loud music erupts intermittently, often after midnight. Sometimes the music is good, sometimes we marvel that some of these off-key singers ever got a recording session. I will reiterate here that some of the regional music reminds one that the Northeast of Brazil is not Rio or São Paulo. Saturday night concerts in the next town blast into our bedroom till 4:00am. The children next door arrive at 7:30am with their nannies outside our bedroom window, chanting “ga-cheen-yo, ga-cheen-yo, ga-cheen-yo” (gatinho - little cat) to aggravate a small boy, who cries often. Popsicle vendors push their carts around these blocks all day everyday (does anyone really buy those before breakfast?) with microphones and very loud speakers to interrupt any conversation one might be having in the kitchen or any pleasant thought. A boy who looks about eight has a roaring dirt bike that has gone by our house with increasing velocity and flying dust as the month has progressed. Sometimes there are five buddies miraculously perched behind him. Despite so many affronts to my indulged senses, I do find January a wonderful interlude of animation around here. The fried pastry vendor plays the same nice catchy rhythm on a triangle that all fried pastry vendors play all over Brazil. It’s nice to have the beach more crowded for a month. Someone had the broken stairs extended all the way down to the sand again. We can monitor how one weekend the staircase doesn’t quite reach exposed rock at the bottom so we must maneuver and jump to the sand, and the next weekend the last eight stairs and the railing disappear into deep banked sand. Newton has never seen a beach that changes so dramatically.The little old man with the portable grill, tables, chairs, and large beer cooler sets up above the shore rocks if the tide is high and simply serves people by casually picking his way down the crags to the sand like a waiter in a (smooth and level) restaurant. And I always look forward to the quiet, tranquil aspect of my house when it is suddenly isolated once more on February 1st. The even tinier baby hummingbird that has joined the now ‘giant’ ones flitting around our flowers, and the plant that crept 6½ feet up inside the gesso exterior wall to emerge as a deterrent to closing the bathroom window remind me of the essence of ‘animated’ in this little walled patch by the sea.

In reference to my New Year’s poem, it is time again to prune the hibiscus bush, which is almost blocking the path to our door from the gate. You tell me how hard it would be to chop these beautiful flowers off!

Anticipating the bedroom and dining room puddles once the rainy season arrives, we engaged a handy man to replace all faulty terra cotta tiles on our roof. He employed two helpers – Marcos was one of them – to work every weekday for two weeks. What we discovered after the roof negotiations was that this project automatically includes a rice and black bean and meat lunch for all of them daily. Don’t you just love that good ol' American tradition of a lunch box with a big sandwich? That is what they call a snack here. We had just hired a new two days/week maid – in the nick of time – who left the kitchen dirtier than she found it, making all that food. The third roof worker jabbered and sang against the rhythm of hammers replacing rotten beams to support the tiles - while we were sleeping. We were reminded that the sun rises at 4:30 this time of year and people get an early start. After lunch, the men napped with full -fledged snoring, one on the stone garage floor and another on a too-narrow, leaning board. I bumped my head twice on the scaffolding that greeted one first thing out the back door, but marveled for two weeks at the nimble and sure-footed Nordestinos, bounding up the scaffolding like monkeys and balancing barefoot casually along the pointed eaves of the roof while bending in half to cement new tiles along the angle.

We noticed a new establishment just a few blocks away, Zen Bar Café, which already did not sound like a typical rustic, local name around these outskirts of Natal. We discovered a lovely courtyard and veranda decorated with items from the orient and with amazing trees. The owners are Maurizio, an Italian, and his wife Neuma, an indigenous native. He is from Sardinia (land of Newton’s great-grandfather) and has lived in Rome, Prague, and Thailand, traveled to Nepal and India, and lived here for 18 years. He is responsible for the incredible variety of world music playing at the bar, as he has his own Italian radio show twice a week (via the internet). Neuma is responsible for the wonderful international menu (two minutes from our house!?!) and the incredibly happy trees and plants in the courtyard. She looks like she was painted by Gauguin and is the most elegant and sophisticated indigenous native I’ve met. The Zen Bar Café will be closed during the rainy season and ‘winter’ here, and we will miss our new friends when they leave in May for their annual four months selling Brazilian bikinis on the pricey Costa Smeralda in Sardinia.

The 4 evenings around a full moon here are very special, for the dark night ocean is transformed into a shimmering blue glow. We started out last Saturday night with dinner at Hellenus restaurant on a cliff, then signed up for a Sunday evening sunset-and-full-moon ride on a catamaran on the Potangi River in Natal. This was for 25 people with hors d’oeuves, drinks, and live music. The boat went under Natal’s new bridge to where the river begins to mix with the ocean. We were surprised once again to see such unusual food in Natal, and soon discovered that the owners had lived in the US for many years. The wife, Rossana, worked at the Brazilian Consulate in both NY and LA; the husband, Cassio – who was the percussionist alongside the guitarist-singer on the boat – worked as a musician in LA. He toured and

recorded with the huge Brazilian star, Djavan, in the ‘90’s…until a scheduled tour was suddenly canceled because the superstitious Djavan had gotten word from his Mae de Santo (fortune teller) that it was not a good time to travel! Cassio then toured and recorded primarily with an Iranian and Spanish duo from LA. Since we had already invited Mauricio and Neuma to dinner Tuesday night, we decided to ask Rossana and Cassio to join us. It turns out that Mauricio had interviewed Cassio for his radio show, and Cassio has a recording studio that makes many of the local artists’ CD’s that Mauricio sells at his bar! We had a grand evening with the just-past-full moon, loads of champagne, and our “spread” with smoked salmon, goat cheese, and wondrous jars of Trader Joes’ concoctions. Now we are invited to dinner at Rossana’s this Sunday. Such instant and marvelous friends!!

Newton has been listening to old samba songs from the 1930’s on his i-tunes. He will suddenly start to chuckle in the office and translate some of the lyrics for me:

“…I’ll kill who stole my just-washed underwear to make a dishrag. It was a present from my girlfriend…”

“…Maria Sapatão (‘big shoe’ – expression for Lesbian), by day she’s Maria, by night she’s João (John)…”

Elise recently e-mailed both Newton and me a little survey. We each independently answered the query: “Where would you rather be?” with the answer: “No where.” For all my complaints, I’d rather be here than anywhere!!

My next dispatch will be about Carnaval 2009!



  1. I would prune the hibiscus and put the cut branches in a enormous ceramic vase on the floor of your exotic patio. Then, you will not suffer and there will be 2 beautiful bushes!.

  2. Hi Sandy. Such a pity that you have to put up with such a beautiful place to live. We'll certainly miss you later this year at our get together in Tulsa.

  3. Everything sounds beautiful mom! Love the pics too - can't wait for the next one...!!!


Click on left arrows below for Archive Dispatch titles.

Blog Archive