from Sandy Needham

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brazil Dispatch 31

Our recent intermittent life in Brazil has been characterized by the circus across the road, which is the changing scene of a new development project. The building and moving of sand and soil and planting and hammering have been going on for some time.

The low point was the week our friends were planning to stay with us a couple of nights before moving to Rio. As the bull dozer sent clouds of dirt wafting through our open lattice transoms, the cleaning lady fought to wipe everything down and leave the house presentable. It turns out that just after she left around 3:00pm on her first of two days for the week, the unmistakable groaning of the bull dozer began. It made a bee-line for the pile of dirt situated at the perfect diagonal for the breeze to deliver the goods. The second appearance of the maid that week coincided with a perfect storm of wafting dirt, an eye-stinging fog of wafting smoke from a strategically placed field burn-off, and the combat zone ambiance created by actual international war games in Natal…roaring a couple of feet over our roof. After she left and the freshly washed stone floor was drying, here came the groaning again. Newton and I ran upstairs to hammer little nails above the bedroom transoms and hang old sheets.

But then our fortunes changed, and changed, and changed. Our caretaker picked up the scuttlebutt that an elaborate party was coming soon across the road; a grand opening perhaps? Free champagne? We wondered if it would be open to us. Work continued on a second version of the elaborate planter, lights were installed at the base of every coconut tree remaining in the field, producing a nightly fairyland, planterand fancy white tents started springing up. Our anticipation grew.

Fairyland 1

Then a truck arrived delivering pre-fab parts for perhaps little sales offices? This was constructed just opposite our front porch. But those panels with photographs were ugly, even if they hadn’t been installed upside-down. Oh, and a port-o-let in front of it all? Not good. Then a black wall went up the length of our road.


After listening to an entire night of hammering, we awoke to a covered stage and stands built on top of the now-empty planter. Newton went to inquire after cars started arriving. It was a party exclusively for realtors. At around 8:00pm the most wonderful live music interrupted my yoga. Newton joined me on the balcony and we realized that a famous band, Cheiro de Amor, was performing in fantastic colored lights right in front of us! We grabbed four little stools – two for tables- and brought them up, along with our smoked salmon and cheeses and a bottle of wine. It was such fun, perching on our stools or jumping up to dance during our private concert! It was more fun than crashing.


We awoke the next morning to find the planter reappearing, the port-o-let and pre-fabs, which had been dressing rooms for the band, gone; and the black wall coming down. Someone over there couldn’t decide about the planter, which to date has had three different plants, a concrete circular surrounding surface painted with a design  - hacked to pieces to be replaced with a circular wooden surface. We eventually went over to take a look at the elegant new sales building and study the scale model inside. What is planned is basically a monstrosity that fills every inch of the coconut field with a 5-story resort-like condominium and elaborate water park, to be completed in 2014. Because the law allows only three stories by the shore, they plan to dig out and build two stories below ground level – ugg. I guess the biggest offense is simply that I don’t perceive our little plot, this haven, as a setting for a glitzy, expensive juggernaut of a development. But that’s just me against untold millions of developer dollars (or rather, reais).

In the meantime, I had a talk about the garbage the laborers were throwing down that was blowing all over the road, and that situation improved just in time for the arrival of Elise, Jake and Jake’s girlfriend Larissa for the holidays. Newton had installed green tube lights coiling up our three coconut trees in front. I believe the moment each holiday dusk that I went out to turn on our tube lights, and the lights on the coconut trees came up across the street, and the work had come to a stop, that the festive peacefulness that befell the scene was as calm as a new deep snowfall. It really worked out for the holidays!

jake posterThe kids were content to hang around and go to our beach nearly every day, so the holidays were filled with loads of low-key fun, games (nobody could beat Jake at the word games), sunburns, a gift-filled Christmas morning, and lovely dinners in or out. We added a day in the sand dunes with a cool lake lunch and a day at the more animated Pirangi beach to the south.




xmas eve 1

cool lunch 3


two guys

Xmas morning 3


last dinner





sparrow'sQuite a special New Year’s Eve was spent at a burgeoning beach town to the north of Natal, Sao Miguel do Gostoso. We bought the New Year’s Eve package at Captain Jack Sparrow’s, a simple bar right out on the sand of a wide, dark beach with stars upon stars above and fireworks from several sources bursting overhead at midnight. We entered the sea to jump over seven waves for good luck, all wearing the traditional white. Then our favorite band from Natal, Mad Dogs, performed. We tried out various fruit drinks, deciding that watermelon prevailed that night. We relaxed in hammocks and watched dawn arrive with the moon and amazing Saturn overhead. (Saturn actually appears as an oval with its rings, though the insufficient lighting in the photo below makes it appear to show rings.)

beach toast

hammock fun

new years eve 1



o tempoThe kids’ two weeks with us were cloud-and-rain-free.

Concurrent with the holidays was the arrival of our caretaker Marcos’ new wife, Eliselma. If under-five-feet-tall Marcos seems miniature, Eliselma is Thumbelina! The strangest detail is the humongous furniture her parents bought them for their tiny house next to our garage: a red overstuffed sofa and love seat, which can only fit in the room if the love seat blocks the door to the kitchen and the sofa blocks the shutter that opens the window; and a table with six chairs that would preclude reaching the refrigerator and stove in the kitchen. We love the Potiguars!

At this point, a new wall of ugly, worn, uneven boards went up in front of the coconut field…oh no; but next time we looked, it was torn down and a neat, nearly transparent fence had been rolled out. Whew. A redesign of the planter itself took place, a trampoline was installed, and clowns have been flipping and unicycling in front of us at breakfast. Preparations are underway for the field to be used for a concert. This time we’ll be away on our trip to the US/Japan(for Newton). Who knows what we’ll see across our road when we get back!





  1. It looks like you had a very successful Holiday season this year even though the planning for your new neighbors appears to be somewhat confused. It must be humorous to watch the indecisions unfold in front of you.

    And what children would not love parents who live in a place where during the holidays every day is 86 degrees and the breeze blows in off of the sea. How different that was from our 20 degree days and nights in the teens with snow cover all but several days since Christmas.

    I would have loved to have gotten such a view of Saturn, but most of our nights were cloudy, the light pollution immense and basically it was just too cold to go outside and look.

    We will look forward to hearing about your next venture to Japan.


  2. Wish we were still in Natal...its so cold in NY!!!

  3. What a wonderful holiday! And I love to read your telling of the story- as your world opens up and it's almost as if I'm right there. And your sense of humor is a model for my only angst over the least bit of a change. Can't wait to hear the next installment...


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