from Sandy Needham

Friday, March 23, 2007

Brazil Dispatch 9

March 22, 2007

Just hours after I sent the last dispatch, our dining room table developed three large cracks in the top. The local, rustic furniture company sent someone to fill in the cracks - a measure that only made the table look worse. They said they couldn't get any more wood until they got a license, so we ordered a marble top for the wood base. They came to remove the cracked top, damaging the base in the process. They took the base back, too, for sanding and re-varnishing. At last we had our marble and the table base was returned AND...the marble top is smaller than the base. Originally confusing our order with another, the furniture company had made a table base only, following the dimensions I had ordered for the table top. Once they corrected this mix-up and gave us a table top, I never re-measured. I just ordered the same dimensions for the marble. The corners of the wood base protrude beyond the marble corners. Sorry, but you can now count on yet another report about our beleaguered dining room table. (I hope just one!)

We have been loving our life in our new place: Newton working with a relatively cooperative internet connection, me painting furniture, attending to the plants in a luxurious, unhurried way, getting to know my way around the city better buying groceries, paint, glass, marble, ceiling fans, etc. I am proud to say that I am not afraid to drive here now, although I am not the most popular motorist on crowded downtown streets.

We are working on getting our US drivers licenses converted to Brazilian ones. This begins with a translation of the licenses into Portuguese, which we had already done up in Fortaleza - BUT when we finally got to the right desk at the appropriate department of the appropriate bureau (all the doors are unmarked), we found out we had to get a new translation from this state (note: same language). Now that we finally located an official translator AGAIN and returned to the government office, we have been scheduled for the eye test and the psychological test (no kidding) to get the new licenses. I think they want to establish that I am certifiably crazy enough to drive in Brazil.

We have a pretty good routine established for the week: Wednesday night is discounted movie night, Saturday night is out, we visit our little local outdoor bar an early evening or two, Saturday and Sunday are beach days, and usually one day per week is devoted to some bureaucratic nightmare. (This will be more or less finished soon.) Newt goes to the beach for a swim and/or run several times a week now, and I read every day after lunch.

I'm reading a 'Lincoln Prize' book on Lincoln's political life now- by Carwadine, an Oxford professor and 19th century American scholar. This is right after finishing the gigantic bio of Benjamin Franklin, but I must say both works are thrilling. Grabbing my hammock in this foreign land with these American history books (and the Puritan/Enlightenment blend in these men that is so familiar to my own background) is not without irony!

I've already made arrangements with Newton's partner to bring my Amazon book order to France next month. Our next business trip is to Nice, mid-April. We are flying to Amsterdam direct from Natal on a Dutch charter, then flying to Nice; after the trade show we're catching a train to Barcelona for a week at the "Bohemia Hostel," then returning home from Amsterdam.

The front porch continues to be the coolest and most entertaining spot in the house. The mailman arrives on a bright yellow and blue motor cycle, wearing a yellow and blue Star Trek outfit, and delivers the mail anonymously from behind a Star Wars helmet! I heard American rap for the first time blasting from a passing bull dozer. The giant black and white bull and his cohorts are herded by almost daily - terrifying. A woman stopped to ask me a question, but when I said "não intendo," she just gave up and said, "OK, buenos dias." People most often assume I am Spanish or Argentine here when they see I speak some Portuguese, but incorrectly! I didn't try to get into the explanation about being the only American around here (we did meet some Canadians the other day!), I just said, "Adios."

Our meals are getting better and better, so I promise not to complain about Cornelia again. Once a week we buy fresh fish if the vendor is there by the produce market, and Cornelia cooks it whole, stuffed with chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers and decorated with peeled lime slices and olives. It is a work of visual and culinary art! Cornelia just told me that her Mother's oldest child is 36 and her youngest is 6 (of ten). Marcos is the biggest character we know of ever stuffed into 4 feet and 9 inches.

This photo happens to show a giant iguana who lodged himself in our car engine:
Life as an endless summer here just has such a delicious flavor to it (it may not be 'endless' - the rainy season is coming up and we haven't seen "winter" yet). I love driving the road from Pium to Parnamirim. It winds through green fields and trees, past boys bareback on horses, the sun burning my arm and the breeze blowing across my head. I drive barefoot so my flip-flops won't catch on the clutch and I usually have on my paint-splattered shorts. I stop to buy lettuce and parsley, following a man to the end of his garden, where he cuts them from the ground. Maybe it's the barefoot part or the not being in a rush...I get some incredible sense of well-being I can only liken to summers when I was growing up.
We hope, by the way, that winter makes a timely retreat up north!

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