from Sandy Needham

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Brazil Dispatch 8

March 1, 2007

In no time the treasure trove of items we had stuffed into our suitcases in New York became dispersed into our rather empty house, seeming just drops in the bucket. But we finally did get delivery on chairs, dining room table and - most memorably - Newton's desk. You know those little ships built inside bottles? Well, we had ordered a large desk for a smallish office with a tiny door. They got the thing through the front door, then demolished it in the living room. They brought the parts through to the office, returned with a new part to replace a damaged one and the electric sander, and rebuilt the desk inside the office:

After years of diving under all our guests' glasses with coasters to protect our oiled teak furniture (one second too late, and we had a ring on the table forever), we decided to finish the desk and the dining table with marine varnish. Unfortunately, polyurethane does not exist here. Who knew I would come to have such respect for the toxic stuff. Our dining table stood akimbo in the dining room for eight days of trying to get that varnish on evenly. The caretaker actually asked us if we were planning to leave the table there hanging diagonally across the room! I finally came to terms with the fact that I could count on seeing brush strokes in shiny patches forever, moved the damn table into place and put the chairs around it, which provide a reasonable distraction from the surface.

Which brings me to a recent observation: I believe the quickest road to neurosis is to have help in the house. When the caretaker, Marcos, painted the first coat of varnish on the table, I realized I would have to continue with subsequent coats to get those shiny patches of brush strokes outta there. Now I see I am able to tolerate those patches because they are my patches! His paint jobs all over the inside and the outside of the house look good until you take a closer look. And I cannot stop looking until I have gone back and covered the errant strokes, completed all the corners, and painted the rest of each switch plate. I spend hours doing this so I can STOP taking a closer look. And the cooking. The best way to describe our attempts to keep the communication as clear as possible with Cornelia would be Cornelia Bedelia. And what is this rearranging of all the objects? I don't think I actually can describe the principles of Ikebana to her. I can only try to emphasize that I like it this way. I am not prepared to try to maintain a house by the ocean myself, with the maresia (sand/salt-laden matter that blows in) covering everything; I have never enjoyed cooking; I do not wish to put these two fine people - Marcos and Cornelia - out of a job, BUT there are days I know I should feel a lot more grateful and a little less crazy. We keep working on the communication. Truth is, the meals have greatly improved in the past week!
The house is looking beautiful and like a real house now. I kept most of the color schemes, elaborate texture painting and stenciled flowers that I loved here the first day we walked in. The impression that day was so compelling for me (and for the owner Fidel) that this was to be OUR house! We have our own humming bird ('beija-flor') every morning by the red flowering bush, and up to three large black and yellow butterflies on the porch at a time (Marcos says that means rain). I love our little town, Pium, just on the way to Natal, with its produce market, little bodegas, and our neighborhood bar across from the gas station. It is peopled strictly with locals. We just discovered a new nightlife section in Ponta Negra that was right next to us those months we were in hotels! We spent a great Valentines evening there - not that they celebrate Valentines here, but that particular night just ahead of Carnaval they had a big street band playing Carnaval music for hours. The street was packed with revelers, and we had so much fun dancing. Once Carnaval began, Newton was disappointed to see that actual Carnaval music was scarce. We went to the big celebration in the next beach town, where the crowded streets had a friendly and festive feel, but on stage they played Brazilian rap, for instance, through deafening speakers - not samba. Rio it ain't.

The ocean breeze that cooled our days and nights has become erratic in February, leaving intervals of heat. Sundays are our beach day, whether here on Cotovelo with few bathers and fewer vendors, or on Ponta Negra - always lively with both. There is sufficient shade cast by the rocks here in the afternoon to leave our flimsy umbrella, which usually blows away, at home. We had a wide beach with low tide on Fat Tuesday, but were in for a big surprise after eating at the barraca at the end of Cotovelo: we made our way back home hip-high in crashing waves. It's that ol' devil moon!

A man came yesterday to take down a huge cashew tree that was choking up our pavement and sending out a trail of termites. He dug a hole around it and hacked away in the heat with his axe. Six hours and $35 later every trace had rounded the bend in a horse-drawn wagon, including the stump.
We do share our lives with plenty of creatures here. Newt wears the fly swatter at all times. He wants to nuke the house, but I'm putting my foot down, and I do mean putting my foot down - in a kind of 'eradicate the ants' dance as I move about the house. I would miss the lizards too much. Looking up from my sewing on the front porch was the startling sight pictured here in the coconut grove across the road. And I was wearing red.

Fidel is in town for what we hope is the finalization of the house purchase. Please don't tell the bureaucrats what I've been saying about them!


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