from Sandy Needham

Monday, March 10, 2008

Brazil Dispatch 16

March 10, 2008

Carnaval came and went as a sort of nightmare. Newton traveled to the US on Wednesday before Carnaval, leaving me alone in our house for the first time. I was upstairs on Friday afternoon watching “Ratatouille” on DVD. The maid was traveling for Carnaval. The caretaker, Marcos, works at a nearby house in the afternoons. Someone was downstairs outside our office ripping wires out and carrying off our two laptops through the windows.

The night before Newton left he came downstairs and discovered a black cat leaping out the dining room windows. I guess that was the omen. So what I carefully did was leave all the windows – which swivel from the middle – only partially open so no cat could come in again. What I did not think about before going upstairs was that this was vacation time in Brazil when the neighborhood is full of people using their beach houses AND wandering robbers who try to drop in and grab what they can. I was accustomed to Newt working in that office every day. I heard the sound of the front gate. By the time I figured out how to push ’pause’ without my glasses on, there was no one to be seen, though the gate was uncharacteristically ajar. I went downstairs and soon noticed that the windows were no longer at my ‘no cat’ angle, but fully open. The sight of those loose microphone and speaker wires hanging out the window left me dazed.

I called Marcos. I also called the police and carefully described where our street is, since no one knows the names and we hadn’t yet re-installed the street sign I made. Marcos came right home and we studied foot prints outside the gate. I begged some guy in a hammock on the veranda of the neighboring house at the corner to get up and come to his wall to talk to me, thinking he may have seen someone. These neighbors who come from the city for one month out of the year are NOT friendly. Finally when he sent the maid and I told her I needed to speak to him about a robbery at my house, THIS was interesting enough to get him up. Then his relatives came out of the woodwork to see what had happened. They were helpful, calling the security service to come by (I did not have the alarm on, so did not call them myself), but never did any of them introduce themselves. The security man spoke English and was terrifically kind to me. Of course it came out that I was here alone, so he encouraged me to call him if I needed to. Newton was on a flight from NY to California at that time.

Marcos and I went to the police station to fill out a report. The police had never arrived here, but the policeman said he had gone to a different street. Then Marcos told them I was German! It is sometimes a shock to understand how ignorant some of these locals are. Luckily, he kept quiet after I corrected that misinformation. I filed a report and we got home just as the electricity went out in the whole neighborhood. There were ten minutes left of daylight.

Newt was probably driving from San Francisco Airport to Lake Tahoe for the annual company ski weekend at that moment. I didn’t know how to call internationally on the home phone because we always use the Skype phone on the two (missing) laptops, but not on Newton’s large computer, which was still here. After I frantically searched the phone book for international calling instructions (there were none), the house became pitch black. I felt my way to the bedroom upstairs where we had a flashlight. The computer also shut down. I realized I knew Newton’s US cell number, so when the lights came on again I tried to reach him on the large computer Skype phone, only without any mike for him to hear me. So I kept calling until he suspected he should call here on the home phone – and he did. By this time the power had gone off again, but the home phone worked! He received the bad news. The power came on and stayed on. I was still shocked and scared, but not in the dark.

By Saturday evening I felt the need to venture out. It was 5:00pm, my favorite time on the beach – short-lived as it is before dark. Sometimes the tide is too high to even walk down to the restaurant at the end; on this first day of Carnaval the tide was very low and a wide promenade of sand allowed small crowds of people to go every which way. Almost every house along the beachfront, and these are large houses, had people partying on the decorated verandas and streaming down the slope to the sand. One house had fancy tables and chairs out for a large party and a live Carnaval samba band of brass and percussion. I made my way to the end of the beach, passing a girl playing a pipe on the low cliff, two guys scoring the boundaries of a paddle ball court in the sand, and some children wearing casual costumes - just a feather boa, for instance, over a bathing suit. The restaurant had stacked away all their beach tables and chairs, leaving only the nicer sections above, which overlook the entire beach. I chose a corner table and tried to just be inconspicuous there alone. After a caipirinha and chocolate ice cream, I made my way back home in the dusky light. I approached the brass and percussion band, which had come down to the sand and was leading a growing parade towards me. A guy literally took me by the hand and pulled me into the parade going the opposite direction. He had taken on the job of beckoning participants all along and was having pretty good success. Everyone was doing a sort of walking samba to the trumpet, trombone and saxophone, snare and bass drums. The lighting made the scene feel like a black-and-white film. Before long the whole crowd followed the band in an about-face and I was doing an anonymous samba home! The musicians returned en route to the party-house as I continued in rhythm down the beach to our street.

Even though I thought I’d dread returning to an empty house if I went out, I was happy I got to start Carnaval off right. Then I was back to what became my default position in front of Newton’s large computer screen, windows shut against the trickster shadows of plants outside, the fan on full blast, watching movies Newt had explained how to download but not how to turn into DVD’s for the player upstairs. I was constantly gasping for air, but afraid to open a window. There was always music and activity in the surrounding houses. The security company had a man driving around this neighborhood all night every night. On Ash Wednesday it all came to a halt. By evening there was no one in any of the houses, the street was deserted, and no security car came around. I was plenty scared. By Thursday night I had to get out, so went to a restaurant where we know the sweet little night manager who lived in London and likes to speak English. He was extremely kind and attentive to me. We invited him to lunch this week.

You may ask why I did not contact any of our other acquaintances during this 10-day solitude. One, none of them, so far, have good friend-potential; two, everyone always has big Carnaval plans of their own on which I did not wish to impose; and three, I was feeling very down and disoriented with Newt away and my laptop missing. I was asking myself, "what the hell am I doing in Brazil?" Our move was a joint venture!

Yes, Newton did come home. He brought a new laptop. I feel normal by now, except for this new-fangled Office 2007! It is hot this summer with very little breeze at some moments, so the bugs and the truck motors sound lazier. Newt has a new surf board and is taking lessons, so the season is ripe with hope! Dozens of yellow butterflies swarming around our yard and over the road make us feel like we’re in the middle of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. We keep the windows open, other than locking them whenever we leave the office. The black cat seems to have found a new beat.


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