from Sandy Needham

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Brazil Dispatch 15

January 17, 2008

Ah - Brazil. We were relieved to spend several days in our pajamas at home after traveling so far and wide. I accidentally, permanently deleted dispatch notes from the past couple of months, so these are the impressions that couldn't escape:
A favorite part of our weekend beach-hanging is watching the small dogs arrive at the beach. One woman has two dashounds - one is hyper and frantically runs circles on his little stubby legs around the joyful-but-calmer one, usually getting him to pep it up a bit. One family arrived with a very enthusiastic pup wishing with all his heart to run free and sample the water, but the woman would not allow him to move, securing him with great effort the entire time. Our frustration for the poor pooch was huge, knowing as we do the ecstatic glee with which dogs feel the heady freedom of the sand! Our favorite was a tiny, intrepid Yorkie who just went nuts, running with the wind in his fluffy hair and plunging into the ocean to swim like hell. He looked like a drowned rat when he emerged from the sea with his hair all plastered to his scrawny little happy body.

The visits to the halls of bureaucracy always provide lasting impressions. I needed three trips to get the car inspected and the paper work done for transferring our license plates from Fortaleza (where we bought the car in the state of Ceará) to Parnamirim (our P.O. township here in the state of Rio Grande do Norte). The police wave us by now with our local plates when they stop random cars on the way into Pium (the small local village). No more bribes for wearing flip-flops (the police's preferred form of payment and a greater savings over the $200 ticket). There really was no reason to go three times to the DMV, other than that the computers were down at the 'bank' section one time (the teller just sat in her window plucking her eyebrows in a little mirror), and the computers were down in the registration section another time (first the woman started to pick up her rosary on top of her bible there behind the counter, but after some interruptions, she settled for popping bubble wrap!).
In the northeast we really do miss the soul of Brazilian music: the samba. The 'Nordestinos' (people of the northeast) love their forró and play this more monotonous music very loudly everywhere. I was in heaven when I stepped into a CD store down south in São Paulo over Christmas where a DVD of Paulinho da Viola's "Acoustic MTV" performance was playing. Not only was this classic samba a healing balm in itself, but every clerk and customer in the store was singing along and moving to the samba beat! This is how I fell in love with Brazil years ago! We have found one group that plays good samba in Natal, just not very often. At the vacation colony on the shore of São Paulo state where we celebrated Christmas with our kids and Newt's family, I saw one cool young couple on the dance floor dancing the samba as if they had emerged from the womb dancing. They even made the fancy steps look as effortless as breathing! I wanted to be them.

Our house is full of January sounds as all the surrounding empty, surreal houses come to life for this one month. Most of the preparatory hammering and sawing have been replaced by the playful screams of children next door and the lovely singing gathered around an able guitarist on the porch across the street. I can't leave out the popsicle man pedaling by with a loud speaker or the conversant procession to the beach in front of our house. We enjoy the change, knowing it will end as abruptly as it started. The summer breeze is just right to counter the warmer temperature, and the sea is that bright turquoise every day! (This is the trade-off for the samba...the sea is darker in the south.)

I continue my 'hammock vocation' of reading great books. The new Einstein biography by Isaacson was just pure heaven. I was totally in love with the sweet little genius and his wonderful sense of life in this universe:

"The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly; this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man."

After I had read several books of current fiction, Jake arrived with my new 700-page Nureyev biography by Kavanaugh. Now that was a fun, gossipy trip through the ballet history at which I was sometimes present! Nureyev knew just about every famous person on both sides of the Atlantic, at least the wealthiest and the most powerful. He was insatiably curious about books, music, art - in addition to all kinds of choreography - and driven to conquer all of it, so it's possible to forgive him his narcissism, violent temper and disloyalty, and just enjoy his incredible, 'terrible beauty!' My heart was beating hard at the part where he defects from the Soviets at the Paris airport in 1961, even knowing that the KGB does not manage to thwart him!I usually go back to classics after current fiction and biographies; this time it's Carson McCullers' short stories, with her Southern take on outsiders, loneliness, and adolescence.
Newton and I took a weekend trip to see some of the beaches north of Natal. Zumbi was a breathtaking beach reached by driving through the saddest display of fields of garbage, complete with grazing cows . We stayed in a tidy little town, São Miguel do Gostoso, full of receptacles for garbage and encouraging signs ("With garbage, no tourists"), but the ocean was grey-brown and full of seaweed and fishing boats. The waiter at our hotel made it all worthwhile, though, quoting the poetry of Vinicius de Moraes to various tables with the most guileless smile. There is no one sweeter than a sweet Nordestino! We found a restaurant/resort on a river that runs just before the ocean with white dunes in-between. We traveled from the top of the dune into the water - Newt by way of the rope chair ride, and me in my famous slow motion roll down the sand. Quite gritty!

You'll remember we were struggling to get our road fixed after the rainy season. Newton reached the verbally responsive guy at the highway department many times by phone, but no help came. One day a truck piled high with construction debris drove up and dumped it all along the fault in front of our house and the neighbor's. After several days of no follow-up, once again it was our caretaker Marcos who tried to break up the huge chunks by shovel and cover them with red dirt, wheel barrow by wheel barrow. A month later a truck arrived with a plow in front. I was watching as it: 1) ruined Marcos' work by unearthing the materials; 2) did nothing with the exposed construction materials along the fault in front of the neighbor's - other than strewing some in the good half of the road; 3) gathered a neat pile of palm leaves on the side of the road into a huge, ugly pile while knocking down six fence posts belonging to the field across the street; and...4) drove away. To top off everything, a manhole was dug at the corner, but the cover was knocked loose immediately. Now it is decorated with protruding items to keep cars from getting trapped. Anyone want to wager how long that will remain broken? In an attempt to improve conditions and deliveries, I made a street sign, and just before our weekend trip we mounted it on a realtor's placard already on the corner. When we returned, the entire placard had been run down, along with a couple more fence posts over there! I was able to retrieve the street sign, and now must find a reliable location for it.

So the juxtaposition of beauty, garbage, perfect weather and bureaucratic frustration continues to spice up our tranquil lives, plus - oh yes - don't get mad - our new addition: the weekly visit of the world's best masseuse!!


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