from Sandy Needham

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Brazil Dispatch 25

I end up observing insect behavior sometimes. What about the tiny ants parading along the vertical grout line in the bathroom, moving in two directions? After a couple of head-on collisions, I notice that the ants with headaches detour in an arc around the oncoming ants from then on. After down-moving ants encounter a transport party carrying a large dead insect up the wall, I notice they do an about-face and get on board, not wanting to miss the festival.

A wasp was busily building a home – apparently a bachelor pad – in the corner of Newton’s office. This looked like a red clay structure. It eventually had two horizontal cylinders, which prompted our question, “Is someone else moving in?” After a day and no evidence of a fellow tenant, Marcos removed the little duplex. We have yet to be stung by the wasps that buzz by regularly. I guess they leave harassing us to the mosquitoes!

Which brings me to our mosquito net. A nightly plague of mosquitoes for the first time to this degree cost us many hours of sleep when the rainy season began. Boy, were we getting cranky! It was probably only six mosquitoes at most any one night, but knowing they would continue buzzing and biting required smacking them all, and they can hide for good stretches of time. Wishing to avoid chemical sprays, I tried incense, vinegar spray, mint oil, citronella essence in an electric burner (no ready-made mosquito net for a queen-size bed existed), but we were still missing whole nights of sleep, waiting for the 4:30 daylight to finally get relief. When Newton threatened chemicals, I ran out and bought 15 meters (16.395 yards) of 3-meter-wide netting and made a mosquito net…with a bedtime deadline! The dining room table looked like someone was getting married, as I wrestled with the yardage until I had joined three sections by hand, sewing 20 yards of running stitch from 2:30pm to 12:45am, breaking only for dinner. Newton was already upstairs slamming mosquitos with a folded T-shirt, but was willing to install hooks in the ceiling to hang the billowing gossamer. We have been sleeping ever since! And we can watch TV through the smooth front, and the ceiling fan doesn’t catch. As you can see, it is quite elegant:

The rainy season has been pretty mild, though terribly hot when there is no breeze. One evening at dinner on the veranda the only moving thing in sight was the twinkling of a star. Palm branches and plants are beginning to stir more nowadays. I persist in considering this summer, even though the locals call every day that isn’t actual summer, “winter.”

We have seen lots of live music, which we thrive upon. The American blues guitarist, Larry McCray, had a fantastic performance here in a club; we continue to love full moon boat rides with guitar, percussion and vocals on our friends’ catamaran; our dentist happens to also be the concert master for the local symphony, so we attended and were thoroughly impressed; we are still loyal to our friends, Mad Dogs, who have extended their repertoire well beyond their formidable Beatles’ interpretations; and - at last – chorinho and chopps (‘shopes’ - draft beer) last night! Chorinho literally means ‘a little cry,’ though that is only its yin to samba’s yang. It is not sad at all. I would say it is a cross between Bach and Spanish guitar, with its own inimitable Brazilian charm added in. Enjoy this short YouTube example:

Our dentist said he’d discount our bill if Newton could name the music that was playing on the office CD while I was in the dentist chair, my mouth stuffed with cotton pieces and the dentist’s hands. Not being one to stay quiet when Newt didn't know the title, I shouted out “Aida” as best I could. At least this opera lent itself to the open, stuffed mouth pronunciation better than ‘Rigoletto’ would have. The dentist laughed so hard, he was happy to give us the discount, especially after I could add "Triumphal March" when my mouth was free!

I have yet to replace all my hand craft work with any specific activity since Christmas. I have had no interest whatsoever in picking up a needle, etc. I’m sort of waiting for a sign to indicate if and where I might volunteer, but I admit, I’m hesitant to begin a ‘clock’ schedule and obligations after all those years of working, volunteering, and raising my children in a constant state of nerves. As I was examining these inclinations in myself, the following quotes appeared in front of me by happenstance, for lack of a better explanation:

“Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth comes to the top.” — Virginia Woolf
“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.” — Satchel Paige

We’ll see where this leads. I could never have imagined that I would have such an opportunity in my life to examine the roles of busyness, productivity, sacrifice and meaning. I am so grateful for time.

In the meantime, I’m still in love with reading in my hammock. I tried a couple of current fictions, of which I’m always leery and often disappointed: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a good Swedish murder mystery, though a little tacky; then a very funny first novel, A Fraction of the Whole. I finished the 700-page first volume of Robert Caro’s LBJ trilogy, which thoroughly disgusts one regarding Texas politics. I’m curious to see if LBJ manages to redeem himself with his landmark legislation later. Will be schlepping volume two back to Brazil from the US in July. Then I went from the ridiculous to the sublime with Marcel Proust, having never read his Remembrance of Things Past. I often dabble in short stories between other books as I really love the form, so I surrounded the historical novel about Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick, Loving Frank, with late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century English short stories and Jeffrey Eugenides' wonderful collection of love stories, My Mistress’ Sparrow is Dead. Even though reading a book seems somewhat productive to me, I’m not willing to give up this activity for the sake of self-examination!

Well, not a dot of rain for two days and the sky is clear; leaves are fluttering away outside the office window. I could complain about the big iguana sneaking in the open door today and using our kitchen floor for a bathroom, but that would be entirely too much information. (As far as we can tell, he exited afterwards.)



  1. Looking forward to seeing you soon!
    PS: Why the long break between dispatches this time?

  2. Hi Mom! Finally got around to reading your dispatch I like to wait so I don't have to rush while reading it....maybe I need a taste of that slower pace, especially when things are so crazy and busy right now in NYC and soon I will be in Rio and Sao Paulo!
    Post more dispatches and pictures!! Love you <3


Click on left arrows below for Archive Dispatch titles.

Blog Archive