from Sandy Needham

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brazil Dispatch 10

May 29, 2007

At last I am caught up with travel reports and can write about our little corner of Brazil again.

In my last dispatch from Brazil I mentioned we were about to take the eye test and 'psychological test' for our Brazilian drivers licenses. Of course, we were very curious what a psychological test for driving might be. When we arrived we asked if there was an English version or, if not, could I ask questions if I did not understand some of the questions in Portuguese? The tester delayed the test 20 minutes deliberating with her higher-up, but I then convinced her to let me try since I could read OK. She then began handing out the tests: not psychological at all, nor was there a word of Portuguese to read - typical Northeast of Brazil non-logic to hold up the test for a non-reason. The test was actually a 'psycho technical' test for visual aptitude and concentration. I believe in lieu of requiring anyone to know the traffic rules, they rely on drivers' ability to see peripherally and concentrate on avoiding collisions. We 'passed' fine and actually got our licenses eventually, behind the third door; however, we came up with a sample written multiple choice test question of our own that we modestly believe would be more practical:

You are approaching a gigantic pot hole on a busy street. You:
A) Drive rapidly over the pothole, destroying your car's alignment
B) Swerve and shear your side rearview mirror off on the bus beside you
C) Swerve and hit the motorcycle that is speeding between car lanes
D) Swerve and hit the donkey-drawn wagon that is already using half your lane
E) Swerve and maim the innocent pedestrian
F) Swerve and maim the persimmon vendor

Our days have a definite rhythm of Newton's work, my projects, and breaking for meals! I have begun sewing 100 squares of Japanese indigo batik prints together for our bedspread. I tried to rent a sewing machine to no avail, so after Cornelia's (the maid's) friend's machine stopped sewing after 1-1/2 inches, and the nice alterations seamstress at a mall offered me the use of hers in the A.M. at the mall - but it was an old industrial model that only sews very fast - I decided to sew the quilt by hand. This, it turns out, is quite a delicious activity, probably simply because I have the time to do it and there's no deadline. I sit for hours on the porch, feeling like an inch-worm as I slowly stitch my way across the blue fields. Then I must walk on the beach and look far away to get my vision unblurred, stretch the cricks out of my neck, and ascend the nearest little dune so I can run down it with flailing arms (the fishermen usually don't turn around).

Or I walk along the dirt/sand roads around here to see the contrasts of elaborate houses, elegant apartments under construction, abandoned houses, piles of garbage, roads blocked with demolished tiles and bricks, and the beautiful sea peaking through block by block. I usually check to see if that guy with the bulls is returning them from some pasture by way of my path, since I always seem to be in red shorts or red tank top, and am convinced they will charge. (Marcos-the-caretaker: "Yes, red upsets them.") One time they rounded a corner coming right towards me; I turned on a dime and went around the next corner as fast as I could, short of running, which I imagined would inspire a stampede. The truth is, they lumber along the roads right past everyone - I just figure I'll be the exception!

We are charmed and appalled by the locals here in nearby Pium. Our favorite bar, "Jumanji" - the only local bar with 'ambiance' - is owned by a wiry, energetic woman named Erivana who has decorated its sprawling outdoor location with plants in tires, driftwood, and all sorts of found objects displayed very intentionally. The teenage waiter, Rodrigo, loves to move to the forró music they usually play on a DVD, which is sheltered from rain by a stick structure. He moves like a natural dancer, even when hopping to get a beer and bringing it to the table. Friday we caught him around in the back dancing away. Be still my heart! We nearly always have to correct the bill because we have been accidentally undercharged, and we're talkin' cheap already: 650 ml bottles of beer for $1.25 and $1.00 caipirinhas! They can't believe anyone would point out this undercharging discrepancy on a check, but we, if we alone, really hope Jumanji survives!

The boy we buy most of our produce from at the fair, Railson, is the only one of several vendors there who acts like we're 'regulars' after six months. He goes to school and studies English, but cannot say one word of it. The education here has been evaluated as nearly the worst in all of Brazil. Then there's the litter question. It is so painful to watch people throwing litter down as they walk or ride in cars and buses, or piling the garbage up on the corner of a lot or on the street. Even Marcos' two little girls, 5 and 6, threw their gum wrappers down (once!) in our yard when visiting him. There are some efforts against this flagrant habit, but parents are littering and no one is telling the children not to do it, so progress is slow.

Of course, one can see the astute and creative at work. Marcos, who can read a little, is a generally sharp person, though poorly educated. He knows how to fix the water meter and the electric shower, plus a host of repairs solved with twine and epoxy. He keeps us informed of local news: the garbage collectors are on strike; a motorcycle wiped out in the muddy groove next to Jumanji; the next-door neighbors we've never seen are building a vacation chalet on their property for their children. Marcos is also our nature expert, always knowing the whereabouts of the iguana and that she went away to lay eggs. He knew what the ants were up to when they spent some days and nights parading diagonally through our property, carrying lovely bits of green leaves and flower petals: they were destroying our red-flowering bush in front, slowly but surely! We were initially enchanted by this tiny, colorful parade and incredulous at the ants' perseverance over such a distance - 47 yards. Naturally, I was fantasizing about an underground fairy house for which this must be an interior design project. Luckily, Marcos also knew how to redirect them. He is sorely missing our idea of logic and deduction though, so communication usually seems strange!

I have a hammock project: reading James Joyce's Ulysses. It was on my shelf for 30 years and the writing is almost a century old, so I figured, like any good English major, it was time. I absolutely love it, though it is not easy. I resorted to Cliff Notes online (what could I do? My Nabokov's Lectures on Literature is in storage in NY), which I started out by reading after each chapter or 'episode.' Then I decided to read the notes prior to each chapter. After the particularly challenging episode 14 where Joyce begins in Old English and proceeds with phases of English through the centuries, ending with American slave dialect, I began reading the Cliff Notes before and after each chapter! So I have been meticulously traveling through Dublin in my hammock, retroactively recognizing the tremendous influences on some of my favorite modern literature. It is a wondrous piece of writing, so rich, and it requires plenty of time (not that I am a speed-reader, but that wouldn't work). I have taken the quite obnoxious liberty of parodying the novel below, primarily because one's mind does fly off into fanciful Ulysses mode while exposed to this 'stream of consciousness' writing, and besides, I can't resist this corny fun. The subject is the odyssey of our leaf-and-petal-toting ants:

"Blooms ballooning booming looming by the., scarlet, vermillion million millions white branco blank yellow amarillo amo amar amas Irish rose but mostly blightred. Carry carregando cargo. Schlep hoisthaul down a hall. A puddle. Kilarney on June 15, 1893 after the picnic when she stepped in the. Transport transform transubstantiate substantial amounts to the mound. João, Ned, Luis, Patrick, Nilton, Edison, Edilson, Milton, Fausto, Paddy, Moarir, (more air?) Vladimir, W.B., T.S., B.S., Marcel, Parnell, Nega, Jack, Marron, Mahoney, Honey, Molly, Maggie, Mina, Milly, Dilly, Maria, O' da Silva, Luciano, Shamus, O'Liveira. Rejoice! McCracken past the cracks, McMantis preying. Has anybody here seen Quel é? Leaves - Kelly green yellow lime parrot chartreuse quince absinthe bottle absent. Lemon celery shamrock clover emerald hunter umber under. Parade desfile file to defile. There's the corner sinister bend pillarpilaster plaster wall route root spp spp silence. Silent group after the service my shoes, Sears, Roebuck and Co. September 1903 were killing me, hole in black sock L.L. Bean, ingrowntoenail. Gait under the gate need to fix that lock but I have no key. Father, son, primo, second primo third primo twice removed one wandering Jew bearing a cross meeting meting out the burden weight waiting for the minute to enter the minute cavern singing. Defecation, resuscitation, sanitation, sanityvanity practical tactical tactile projectile of. Ants in the bed once, going for the potted meat. It was after she read that dime novel, Sins of the Fresh by E.Z. Rider. Here they come they are here here they go over and over march on marchons. Veni vini vexation. Non lo so, solo? No. So. Nighttown darkly but then face to face the haulers and the slackers and returnees and the lost disoriented, oriental, occidental accidental loss of bearings bearing loads or. No. Phantasmagoria. Destroy destruir strew leafing leaving naked branches blanched stems twigs reeds seeds spilled soil spoiled by toil. Travail, to no avail."
(Forgive me!)

We will continue to love this warm 'rainy season' - known as 'winter' to Marcos - without too much rain, just sort of a tintype look of sunshine through a grey filter in the early morning, and continuing shifts in color and contrasts to surprise and delight. For a few minutes today the sky above the horizon was actually darker than the ocean. Then it was sunny with clear blue sky and turquoise ocean, then the same but with darker water. Jumanji was open at 5:00 pm, we noticed, when we walked to the gas station, called o posto, "the post" for ice cream (to observe Memorial Day), but was closed at 8:15 pm when we went to have a beer. They are closed on Tuesdays, but the last two Mondays they were closed, so opened on Tuesday this week. Can you guess how many times we've driven there and found it closed? Very Pium!


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