from Sandy Needham

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Brazil Dispatch 26

September 17, 2009

I guess taking down our mosquito net after six months and finally power-washing the rain-darkened stones out front harkens the sense of a new phase. Ordinarily, the rainy season ends in July and the subsequent windy season chases away whatever mosquitoes may be lagging behind. This year, we’ve come to mid-September without more than 3 consecutive days rain-free, which is not to say there haven’t been some glorious golden days and starry nights mixed in (with bug-slapping outdoor dinners). We were more than ready to forgo the stooping and ducking maneuver needed to get in and out of bed under the mosquito net – lovely as it is – and we longed for a TV screen minus the scrim, so down came the net last night. I was able to stuff the entire 30 square meters into the washing machine!

And speaking of laundry…I cannot slough off my ‘American washing machine’ oblivion, where one pitches in soap, clothes, pushes a button and goes away. I have a lot of trouble getting a load of laundry done in a timely manner with my simple model Brazilian machine. First, the instructions say to start running the water and, once there is enough to dissolve the soap, return to add that. Then as the water continues to fill, return to put the clothes in. Now the instructions say to turn off the machine and let the clothes soak for an hour. Then you return to push ON to finish the cycle, which takes almost another hour.

Just imagine how hard it is to stay on top of this laundry schedule if one is forgetful or otherwise engaged, especially in another room out of earshot of the machine. So I have many variations on running a load of laundry, from having the agitation start with the machine filled with water and soap, but no having the clothes soak for 4 hours instead of the most recent topper: having the machine run almost an entire cycle without soap or clothes! The water had drained out from the first rinse, so I tried unplugging the machine in hopes that the cycle would begin again. Turns out after the water started filling and I added the soap and clothes, then it just rinsed them and spun them! I had planned to check and have them soak at least, but was long gone into some reverie or other when that would have been possible. It is so embarrassing when the maid is around to witness! I've told her that I would like to do the laundry. Looks like I need a Zen cushion beside my washing machine. This timing problem does not diminish my love of the laundry ritual, above all hanging the clothes on the line and admiring, time and again, the invention of the clothespin.

Marcos, the caretaker, started cleaning the stones around the outside of the house with a rented power-washer at 6:30am. We asked him to stop when we were trying to eat lunch on the veranda at 1:45 amidst the unbearable roar. We convinced him to go eat (something he does like clockwork at 11:30 every day). He would not rest in his hammock after lunch as usual because he knew he’d never get up again, so back he went at the stones. I told him he sure has a lot of patience and he replied, “Tenho”…”I do have.” Marcos – wiry and strong and enduring as he is – looked tired. We are painting up/fixing up in time for the arrival of my best friend from my whole life, Lenna, with her husband, Jon, to celebrate our 60th birthdays! After a week in Natal, the four of us are going to Salvador, Bahia.


And we just had a great visit from another longtime friend, Maria Candida. I met her on my second trip to Rio in 1982. She is a bona fide, sophisticated, urbane, brilliant, fascinating Carioca! Her English is excellent, and we discovered we were reading two of the same authors; we had also both seen the same museum exhibit in New York recently! Maria Candida is a truly talented photographer, as well, as you can see in these photos:


Here are a couple of gorgeous photos from some of her world travels, to Indochina and India:


We all enjoyed Rossana and Cassio’s boat ride with full moon and great live music. Then plenty of beach hiking to the falesias (cliffs of sand) and a trip to Tibau do Sul Beach south of here, complete with whole grilled fish.


We also tried the paella at a restaurant owned by a Spanish chef we had met:


Newton and I have returned to our groove after our US visit. One day we saw three dolphins traversing Cotovelo Beach in repeating arcs! Amazing. This is rare, though not unheard of on Cotovelo. They are ordinarily glimpsed further south. We took up the habit of cooking spicy chicken wings and eating them on the beach with beer, although the windy season causes sand to blow on the food in one’s hand, so this part of the routine is on hold till summer. We found out that the crescent moon looks like the smile on the Cheshire Cat here because near the equator the crescent opens upwards, rather than opening to either side. I am also reminded of Eugene Field’s “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” because this crescent moon looks like a boat sailing in the sky. When at last we turn out the downstairs lights and go upstairs every night, I heave a sigh of pleasure upon entering our bedroom with the window and doors thrown open to the sea and the breeze, sometimes with this crescent moon out the window, or maybe the bright indigo glow the full moon casts on the ocean, or sometimes there is Saturn – so big in the sky – and sometimes, later, framed by the window from the bed, is Jupiter – just HUGE in the sky. And the ocean sound. I still love our house! Even though Newton consults the clock habitually – well, he’s still working, after all…I really can forget about what hour it is and feel the rhythm of rotating bird sounds from the migrating parade, of the changing hues and shadows from morning to evening or with changing weather, local errands, a book in the hammock, Newton’s shrimp on Saturday and Sunday after the beach, the buzzing of insects every evening, heading out to the veranda for our meals across from the coconut trees, watching a downloaded episode of The Wire. I’m leaving out the annoying stuff, but I really love this life.

On our US trip I picked up Obama’s two books. Dreams of My Father is extraordinary for both its beautiful writing and its universal theme of identity, regardless of how well or how little we understand our roots. He is a keen observer and master of subtlety. The Audacity of Hope is more like a well-written government primer. My new Alice Munro short story collections have already been consumed, so now I will look forward to my next two from the US in December. I’ve started Volume II of Robert Caro’s LBJ biography. The opening is astounding. To be reminded of the courage that was required of African Americans to stand up for civil rights is humbling. And we get daily reminders 50 years later of how ugly bigotry and demagoguery are.

clip_image011My Mother just moved from her larger room to a smaller one at the Methodist Manor in Tulsa, as she outlives her funds. My two oldest sisters, brother-in-law and nephew made the move as organized and painless as possible, not to mention their wonderful job preserving her remaining chicken collection. The chicken wire was my brother-in-law’s idea and draws many sightseers! We will visit her in her new space in December.


clip_image013Not to be outdone, Jake moved from Boston to Las Vegas. He bought a Toyota convertible the first day there. He has now had a cash offer accepted on a house, so if all goes well, he will be a homeowner a few days before turning 23! We will all meet in Las Vegas for Christmas – now there’s an odd image. I’m thinking poker chip ornaments, though I haven’t mastered the engineering yet.


clip_image015Elise was invited to join the Jonas Brothers’ tour for its last eight days - Nashville, Columbus, Cleveland, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. She had a berth in one of 14 busses with the horn section - 4 guys – and the string section – 2 females. Then after all night on the bus, she was provided with beautiful hotel rooms to shower, sleep some more, and prepare for the next show. She was assigned to video one of their opening acts, the Wonder Girls, from Korea. It was a thrilling ‘roadie’ experience! The Jonas organization has requested her again to video the show of another opening act group in Manhattan. In the meantime, she is still the official videographer and editor for the Jonas fan club website, among other assignments.

As you might well imagine, it is time for me to go turn the washing machine back on!

Hope the return of the fall routine is sitting well with all of you –




  1. I made a rather substantial comment last night to this blog, but it didn't seem to register in the blog. Anyway, I thought you comments about the washing machine were wonderful. I suggested that you get an interval timer with an alarm to remind you when to do something. I can send you one if you can't find one in Brazil. I have plenty of them around from my days in the lab when I was running timed experiments.

    Also congrats on the success of your children. They seem to be doing great and very successful.

    Finally, being in a low light area and being able to both hear the ocean and see the planets would be absolutely wonderful. I do envy that part of your life, but I'm not sure I could have that much time with no real work to do. I'm probably more like Newton than you in that respect.

  2. Wish I could teleport myself there to enjoy some of that beach and paella!
    As for the laundry...I am lucky that I can drop my huge bag of unsorted clothes and pick it up the next day a block from my apt without having to do anything ! The best part is how they fold everything perfectly into a neat brick of clothes.
    Still missing being on the JB tour...can't wait for the next shoot!


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