from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Brazil Dispatch 28

Well, the days of our coconut field across the road are numbered. Now when I wake up and go out to the balcony to take in the sea and the field of trees, I see three workmen with a pulley and a bucket (and a distinctly mule-like struggle) to dig a big hole in the sand for some large round concrete thing. Now is when I appreciate the snail’s pace of progress in the Northeast…while I can still do my yoga unobserved on the balcony at night and change clothes upstairs with the doors open. The development will be houses or low apartment buildings, plus a wall, no doubt. Time will tell if our balcony view of the ocean will be partially obliterated or not. Who knows? Perhaps there will be benefits such as new friends and more restaurants nearby. We thought it strange that a bull dozer was not involved, though now we can hear the rumblings of one from behind the coconut trees. A flatbed truck delivered a huge stack of bricks, then knocked part of them over as it pulled away. Oh well. I thank the coconut field for its beauty every morning because I can.

erosion The annual rainy season – which Marcos always calls “winter” – has been pretty sunny and warm. Most of the showers have been at night, a boon to sleep. Our poor steps down to the beach that had gotten ripped up by the ocean have been eroded further by rain and more pummeling by high tide.

One day while I was reading in my hammock, a guy came to the front gate and said hello. I realized after a beat that he was actually speaking English, and American English at that! Cleveland Thomas was here for a couple of months from San Diego. He rented an apartment across from our back door and was told by Stewart-the-Brit that an American lived here. We enjoyed a blues festival and a jazz festival with him, and introduced him to some of our friends at Newton’s birthday dinner. He spent much of his time here hanging out at a very local bar and with the caretaker Armano from next door. Before Cleveland left he threw a huge barbeque in the apartment building courtyard. I helped him shop…it was huge (whole fish, chicken, filet mignon, baby-back ribs, sausages, brisket). But what was the most interesting part is that Cleveland had bridged the glaring class divide here and invited everyone to his party! He never got to know our caretaker, so Marcos was not invited until Armano mentioned it to him. In the end, Marcos declined and we were somewhat relieved, not knowing exactly what that would feel like. Marcos knew he would feel uncomfortable. Despite being eternally democratic, I had no preparation for the extremely wide educational gulf that separates the classes here and am at a bit of a loss to know exactly how to proceed past small talk in two bad versions of Portuguese – theirs and mine. Cleveland didn’t speak much Portuguese, so actually avoided this difficulty while passing hours with them all in gesticulating communication! In the end, Armano and his friend and the local bar owners grilled, made caipirinhas and prepared food in the kitchen. They seemed to find their comfort zone in this approach, as well as the phenomenon that divided the classes by tables on either side of the grill. The common denominator was Cleveland himself and the kids all playing together in the pool. Here Tracks 1is Cleveland behind Rossana, Cassio and their daughter Olivia:

And here he is with Armano, Antonio, and the bar owner:

In the video below, I am just starting to trick the children into eating nutritiously by making them catch cucumbers, carrot sticks and grapes in the pool. The competition soon grew fierce when all the kids jumped into the big pool, frantic to catch what flew to them (only the oldest boy refused to put one bite of veggie in his mouth):

This all-day party and Cleveland’s farewell (he'll be back because he bought the apartment) were followed by a rash of parties with our international friends. Besides sharing dinners almost weekly with Rossana and Cassio – Brazilians who lived many years in the US, we attended a very youthful birthday bash at Bella and Michelle’s Ponta Negra house, complete with loud music, dancing, caipifrutas (caipirinhas made with grapes or kiwis or strawberries or passion fruit instead of lime) - from which we returned home at 4:45am. After Newton sent a quick Facebook comment to Elise before going to bed, he found this reply the next day: “What are you doing up at this hour Mr.???” Tom and Lorraine had a barbeque in their countryside spread. He is a Brit of Malawi heritage, and she is half Malawian and half English and Dutch. He specializes in deep-sea diving to repair off-shore rigs in the UK; she teaches English in a school here. They are just lovely:tom's pool

Tom Michelle & Lorraine

Michelle from Montreal is pictured here with Lorraine:

Below at the table, left to right, Ana Paula-Brazil, Bella-UK, ?-Brazil, hidden ?-Finland, Julie-UK, John-Holland, Michelle-Canada, Jan-Switzerland, and moi:hens Soon after was a day at the lake house of Singaporean, Ian, and Ana Paula. It had a similar cast of wonderful characters – many the same. These events offer great fun and great conversation in English, wonderful food and loads of wine and beer!Ian's We really adore them.

We were able to see Glades before she took off to visit her family in the south of Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul). She and Williams in Nigeria talk less and less to avoid the pain of that big ocean between them. She has been working as a tour guide again; Williams still has little hope of garnering $5,000 plus airfare to get back into Brazil. If she is able to sell some valuable family land in Porto Alegre, perhaps they will one day be together again.

My hammock time has resulted in the recent completion of the 1,000+ page volume III of Robert Caro’s Pulitzer-winning biography of LBJ. I feel like I am now a senate scholar…a thoroughly disillusioned one, but with some reality about our US government under my belt. The fourth and last volume about his presidency will be out in 2012 (a decade after volume III). I can hardly wait for this near-sociopath to redeem himself at last with some real civil rights legislation. When this book ends in 1960, still only 15% of African-Americans are registered to vote in the South. Some of them lost their jobs (or much worse) for doing so.

We leave this week for a month-long trip. Newton and his high school buddies will celebrate their 50th birthdays at one’s mountain retreat outside Rio. Then we will spend a few days in São Paulo with Newton’s family. Newton will fly >New York to China while I fly >Houston to Tulsa. I will have 6 days with my mother and see many friends before flying to Jake’s in Las Vegas. He, his girlfriend and I will drive to LA to meet Newton and Elise for a 6-day cruise to Mexico. Then I return to Las Vegas while Newton attends a trade show. We will then meet in New York for storage bin downsizing, to see friends and to attend a wedding.

Elise has been assigned to video the South American tour of a singer named Demi Lovato. After Santiago, Bogotá and Lima, she will literally be in the São Paulo airport at the same time we will, though Rio will not coincide. We are very excited for her. Jake has his schedule in place to return this year to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in July.

Hence, with parties and travel interspersed, it is with continued pleasure that I ponder the golden, aura-framed full moon over the ocean, the accompanying stars that twinkle ever brighter for it; the rhythm of Marcos’ early morning sweeping, the rhythm of the waves, the rhythm of laundry day, grocery day, hot wings day; the clock-less, calendar-less nature of my Cotovelo Beach life. I had a palpable sense the other day that I could let slip more of my linear orientation to life. I still want the porch sofa to line up with the floor stones, but maybe the maid’s faster/shorter day doesn’t have to be what we agreed on initially if it works! It sounds like trivial adjustments, but I see that the letting go is big and can only happen incrementally. It helps being 60: I no longer care how I look in a bikini, and it is safe to flirt unabashedly with beautiful young men…something I learned from my mother!




  1. Really enjoyed that last dispatch, especially your reflections on approaches to life. Maybe we'll see you state side when you're in NY? Bye for now - Sara

  2. So sorry we are going to miss you in Tulsa. I hope you have a great time. Although it sounds as if this trip to Tulsa has blossomed into quite an excursion. Being on the road that long is always so tiring, but seeing children and friends usually makes up for living out of suit cases. I have read a little about LBJ and he was a brutal and truly rude man. I guess that goes with Texas politics. I've been trying to settle into a slower life style, and have actually done pretty well given the season and the projects in my garden and yard. But I am hopeful of getting back into some actual work in the next few months. I suggest that maybe that couch really doesn't have to be lined up with that stone floor and maybe flex hours work just as well as long as the work gets done, especially if the hammock is still available and the books are close by. Enjoy your travels.



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