from Sandy Needham

Monday, November 24, 2008

Brazil Dispatch 21

November 24, 2008

My three sisters arrived on November 2nd! Janet (Denver), Dorothy (Durango, CO), and Donna (Lawrenceville, NJ) weathered the 23-hour door-to-door trip from New York. We managed to gab almost incessantly for 6 days, changing the backdrop from front porch, to guest bedroom, to ocean boat ride, to a day at Ponta Negra beach, to too many artisan shops and a couple of fancy restaurants. We had last been together in 2004 in Tulsa for my Mother’s and Uncle Lawrence’s 90th birthdays, but that was with all husbands, cousins, children and grandchildren attending. We were not able to cover make-up and death so thoroughly under those impediments. Newton was the designated brother-in-law to witness this boisterous/emotional/silly phenomenon, though he fortunately had to work much of the time, plus COOK FOR US! The truth is, he had loads of laughs, too, none of the least of which was Donna demonstrating the "sprinkler" dance to "Love Shack."

My American friend Mary from the next town, who does not have a television, came over to watch election night with us all. Elation mounted, culminating in Obama’s acceptance speech at 3:00am here. We all know where our “where were you?” memories of that historic night will take us. The Obama fever is high down here, and it is very moving to see how even our caretaker and the produce workers at the bodega and our

adorable waiter at the beach – none of whom are black, but indigenous/European brown – seem to share so personally in this victory.

You are surely asking the burning question, “Did Sandy finish her 100-square quilt before her sisters arrived, after nearly two years of hand-stitching?” Yes. The next blog posting, Chocolate and Cigarettes, is the essay that came to me as I stitched the quilt.

Newton and I run into people we know more and more often here, which makes us feel almost like real locals. We met two women who were exchange students in the ‘80’s –one to Muskogee, OK and the other to Duluth, MN. Their English is excellent and they can tell me all about being “Natalenses” (the name for Natal natives). My Portuguese is still atrocious with no good excuse after two years, other than that I have been concentrating on reading and writing and, I admit, speaking English! I am too fond of good conversation to limit myself to understanding only the first half of all the Portuguese sentences flying by in a group conversation of accelerating speed! And speaking of English, I cannot think of a more magnificent book than E.B. White’s collection of essays from ”Harpers” and “The New Yorker,” 1938 – 1944, One Man’s Meat. He was on his own retreat from Manhattan to a sheep farm in Maine during the (first) Depression and WWII…hauntingly timely and lovely. Most of the films we see are in English with Portuguese subtitles, though I am a big fan of Brazilian movies. These require a few whispers from Newton in the dark theater or waiting to watch at home where more thorough explanations of missed dialogue can occur. I recommend “Out of Tune” (Desafinato) – about a group of young Bossa Nova musicians in the ‘60’s visiting Manhattan from Rio. Also, “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation,” “My Name Ain’t Johnny” and “Cousin Basilio.”

A music festival at the local federal university included some fantastic folk dance groups, performing highly glorified versions of the popular Forró. I was struck once again by the biological imperative implicit in folk dancing. First, you show me men who can dance with abandon, and – be still, my heart! Then add the beauty of youth, the graceful girls, the flirty atmosphere, satin costumes and movement SO natural and exuberant that one senses that none of the dancers has to think for a second, just let go. I am convinced that any culture without widespread folk dancing is just a little bit sadder than it needs to be.

I saw a new butterfly the other day. It was brown and white-spotted on the outer side of its wings, with a bright solid orange on the inside wings. As it fluttered, I decided that that is where the Japanese got the idea for the bright silk lining that peeks out of a kimono sleeve!

How nice that we can all officially say ‘thanks’ this week for our tremendous good fortune. HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all!


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