from Sandy Needham

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Our ‘autumn’ in Natal ushered in the rainy season, which does not mean incessant rain for months, but unpredictable rain at any time. The world gets truly green, as well as our clothes and shoes in the closets. One challenge of the season is to keep in mind exactly what has been set out to receive bright, intermittent sun so one can race to retrieve it when the sudden showers arrive. I find myself often half-awakened in the night by an onslaught, foggily wondering if Newton’s loafers are still on the ledge outside…or not? Laundry presents its own set of problems with no dryer…let’s just say we went to bed with clean, damp sheets. The occasional days with completely bright sun and blue skies are typified by everyone being quite happy – the way New Yorkers get on the early, odd spring day.

The event of the season was a four-celebrant birthday party – one of them being Newton – with our ex-pat friends. The host, John, a Brit from Madeira, went all out with tents (just in case), a two-man bar, an espitinho man (little kabobs), a man on grilled steak duty and a DJ. We contributed a keg of draft beer and more food. It was a night to remember!


Here is our friend Ali (Turkey), whom I met in my Portuguese class, and his wife, Priscilla (from the south of Brazil). He is a researcher and she a professor, both in ecology at the federal university here…they are FUN!:

Ali & Priscilla

Our friend Lauren (Brooklyn, NY), is in Natal on a Fulbright grant and is also in my Portuguese class:


Here are birthday girl Bella (British), friends Michelle (Montreal), Luciana (Natal) and Darius (Persian British):birthday ladies

Luciana had recently been in London at the same time as Darius. They went to a wild night spot complete with a snake handler. Luciana held the snake while someone snapped the camera, but as she looked away, the python BIT her in the eye and cheek with its fangs. She had to have two surgeries and almost lost the eye. Here she is nearly completely recovered with barely any evidence – hats off to the British surgeon!


Unfortunately, a week ahead of the party I had slipped in the shower and hit the right back of my ribs on the low barrier enclosing the shower. While I bruised the ribs (at least), the worst pain came from muscle spasms that shot down the right side of my back. By the time of Newton’s party, I could dance, and loved cutting the rug – especially old rock-n-rollin’ – with Newton. I believe my spasm-shortened right side is what caused us to NOT connect hands on a particularly risky swing to “Wake Up, Little Susie” (after all those years of NOT landing in the middle of the band on these moves). Alas, I fell backwards, trying to catch myself with my already challenged, congenitally weak wrists. It was a short fall, me being close to the ground height-wise, but my wrists hurt afterwards. Though I applied ice from the bar till we went home at 4:00am, I awoke to a very swollen and blue left wrist on Sunday morning. Off we went to get X-rays, planning to check out the back ribs while we were at it. After five hours at our so-called ‘better’ private insurance hospital, it turns out I didn’t break anything! Our friend Ali felt compelled to theorize, being a scientist, and concluded that rock-n-roll is more dangerous than osteoporosis! I sadly had to adapt two of my five Tibetan yoga poses that were already challenging to the wrists, but have steadily regained most of the practical use one needs moment to moment. I just HATE injuries.

I presented Newton with one of those amazing Nespresso machines for his birthday, which some friends brought back from London for me, along with 50 capsules of various types of espresso. I would say this is the closest to a science that something as arbitrary as making a great cup of espresso can get, and Newton is a huge espresso devoté. The machine from London and the capsules cost exactly one third of the price in São Paulo, where Brazilian import duties are prohibitive. We are loving the espresso.

Newton and I went to a new place that opened up just across the street from our beloved Buraco da Catita, called Consulado Bar. This very interesting old building was literally the Italian consulate during World War II, when there was an American/Allied base right here in Natal. The owner of the building has an extensive collection of WWII memorabilia, including fantastic old posters hanging in the restaurant from the US (‘Loose lips sink ships’), Britain, and Russia. There is an old photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Natal, as well as aerial photos of the base. The big surprise comes with the floor tiles in a foyer:

Consulado Bar

Those damn Fascists.

Here are some of my friends who gathered one evening at our neighborhood Zen Bar to send Mary, an American from the next beach town, off to her second extended stay in India. From left to right are Glades, of Nigerian fishermen fame – she’s the one who helped them for months – and she has since moved to Florianopolis in the south of Brazil, being from the south herself; Neuma, a native Potiguar who owns Zen Bar along with her Sardinian husband; me; Mary; Julie, a Brit who teaches English here; and Jennifer, an American who is in graduate school in linguistics here. It is highly unusual to have three Americans in one space in Natal!

                               Ladies at Zen Bar

My Portuguese for Foreigners class, free at the federal university on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, has been quite difficult this semester. While it is common for Brazilians to use the proper words without knowing why…without learning the rules exactly, Newton has been particularly surprised to see all the rather formal items that we have been taught. I’d like to speak better and understand better, pure and simple, but it helps to know the names of things in order to learn them, so the route, particularly to grammar, is a circuitous one. The verbs, which are famous for being difficult, are nearly impossible for one whose short-term memory fails her regularly! I have to re-learn the irregular verbs over and over, pining for the good memory of my youth.

Here are the conjugations of VER (to see) and VIR (to come), for example:

I see/you, he, she sees                                     I saw/you, he, she saw                                        Note: three words:

we see/you, they see                                        we saw/you, they saw                                          see, sees, saw

vejo/vê                                                            vi/viu

vemos/vêem                                                     vimos/viram                                                       Note: eight words

Now for VIR:

venho/vem                                                        vim/veio

vimos/vêm                                                        viemos/vieram                                                  Note: seven more words

I came and I saw, but I did not conquer. Note how ‘we saw’ (past) and ‘we come’ (present) are the same? This is just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t even think about the imperfect, past perfect, the subjunctive present and past, the future, future conditional, past participle, etc. One needs to memorize and remember.

The course sometimes adds an additional afternoon with a Brazilian movie with Portuguese subtitles to help us. I find the spoken and written words often going by in a blur. I need more conversations, more immersion…which means it would be helpful if our caretaker and his wife – the people I speak to every day - spoke proper Portuguese, which they don’t (I finally learned that when she says “bichinho” – ‘little animal,’ she means ‘thing”); or if Newton spoke Portuguese with me, which he never has (not that his is exactly correct after 29 years abroad); or if I watched more Brazilian TV, which I dislike; or if I were more ambitious, which I’m not; or if I had not forsworn the entire notion of ‘should’ when I moved here, which I did, after a lifetime of ‘should.’ In the meantime, my Portuguese is improving, and I wouldn’t trade my English-speaking friends for the world, one of whom is Marcelo, the director of the program at the university, who also loves to speak English!

Newton walked around the block by the beach here and picked these colorful flowers for my Mother’s Day bouquet, arranged them like an expert, then made breakfast with the - are you ready?... American style bacon we had just discovered at a store here. It was a beautiful breakfast, and I am extremely lucky.

Mother's Day Bouquet          Mother's Day Breakfast

Elise spent the spring in New York preparing for her move to Los Angeles by cleaning out, selling, donating, packing, shipping, good-bye partying and catching a plane. She already had an apartment waiting because a friend of hers in NYC holds the lease. She pulled all of it off with some help from her friends, bought a used Bug convertible, and was awaiting our upcoming visit.

                                         Elise house & car

Jake was on a trip to Europe when the US Justice Department decided to close down the three biggest online gambling sites. Even though he was in Madrid at the time, his accounts were now frozen American accounts, so were inoperable there, as well as subsequently in Prague, Berlin and Amsterdam. The Justice Department was ostensibly going after the off-shore companies for finding ways to get money into and out of the sites in the USA, which had previously been prohibited, but it seems the real reasons behind this infringement of freedoms has to do with the formidable domestic gambling interests who wish to overtake on-line gaming. Until it is reinstated by way of the powers that be, it helps that Jake has a European Union passport (Italian via Newton’s great-grandfather), which now allows him to play Texas Hold-em poker from foreign shores.

As the rains increased in Natal, Newton and I took off for the USA, west coast only this time.




  1. Ugh, the wet season! I know it makes things green (as you say everything green), but humidity without air conditioning would be about as hard on me as learning to speak Portuguese. I got confused just looking at your chart. I think short term memory parallels long term age. I'm not sure I could ever learn another language at this stage in my life. I do so envy your submersion in such a diverse group of people. As we already approach another election year here in the States, I wonder if we will ever get over being a stupid and narrow society. I sometimes think we should require all U.S. students to spend some time in a foreign country just to understand that there are other ways live.

    Five Tibetan yoga poses?? That is impressive all by itself.


  2. I love, love, love the picture of the Mother's Dad breakfast on the porch! Prettier than any I've seen in a magazine.

    And you look wonderful- all the aches and pains must be well hidden. I can relate to the unexpected. I "passed out cold" on a recent trip and still have a sore bruise on the back of my head and my elbow. Do you think it just takes longer to get over stuff.

    I love seeing all the pictures of your friends.

    And I cannot imagine living without a clothes dryer- any season...

    But mostly glad you're back to blogging! You were missed!

  3. Glad you're back blogging. I love reading about what's going on with you, and you certainly don't look any the worse for wear despite throwing yourself all over. Rest assured that it is much more difficult for an adult to learn a new language. There are some very interesting brain studies that show what happens - the learning area is much farther from the area that processes native language the older you get. So bravo for you and don't get discouraged!

  4. Despite your frustrations, congrats that you're improving in your language goals. Another idea you might like - children's books with lots of pictures. And the theory I teach with is that one learns the most with speaking...good luck and keep us posted. I love your blog! Are you able to do the other 2 poses you had to modify yet? Sara


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