from Sandy Needham

Monday, May 13, 2013

Brazil Dispatch 35

Let’s just say I’m a bit nervous and over-sensitive and totally thrive in tranquility and beauty; probably not obsessive or neurotic, but who’s, but who’s to say?

Two-and-a–half weeks after the infamous In Mare construction company specified they would begin repairs on our fallen veranda and the widening cracks they caused throughout the house, they actually did begin. What stands out in my mind now is the casual lying – much of it cultural – about the schedule, the highly professional work and complete protection of the surrounding floors, etc.. I was very concerned, having lived with the indelible residue of sloppy ‘repairs’ that predate our occupying the house. My position has long since become: NO MORE of this shoddy mess on my watch (a slippery slope in these parts, neurotically speaking). I thought we would have the same skilled workers who will later finish the $1,000,000+ luxury condos across the road.

veranda 2Make that ‘worker,’ not ‘workers.’ The one young, crazed heavy-cement-slinger who came to repair our house did have an assistant who stood around doing nothing or sweeping in slow motion. The “two weeks” actually took five…nervous-making enough, but that was only part of the problem. Every step forward was accompanied by collateral damage. We were able to have the new crooked columns made somewhat straighter, but what about the splattered cement on the plants, the walls, the windows, the floors…and the repaired cracks inside and out that were clobbered with ‘cemento grosso.’ The method of building these walls and columns requires throwing the cement in globs, probably to remove air bubbles in the same way that clay is prepared. All that promised protection of surrounding areas was flapping out of place in the breeze, even though I tried repeatedly to anchor it. We had agreed with In Mare that we would be responsible for the painting afterwards, but somehow believed the place would be ‘paint-ready.’ The cement–thrower repeatedly pointed out 1)that he worked only with the heaviest grade of cement, so nothing finer could be applied and 2) that further refinement would be the prep job of the painters. Most of his work looked sub-kindergarten.

LR ceilingHere’s the living room ceiling:





The five weeks ended with debris-filled tarps still blowing loosely around the premises, construction rubble on awning roof tiles everywhere, a big black spot on the stone floor of the porch – the thick paint product used to protect the iron rods inside the cement from ocean-rust; and me, five weeks into potential melt-down. Somehow that image on the last day of four hard-hatted boss-men from In Mare standing around the big black spot looking puzzled, after that initial promise, is also indelible. The slow-motion assistant actually just scraped the stone away for hours, so now we have an indented white spot. But the porch and the balcony were reconstructed, at last!

veranda 3

This was a Wednesday. On Friday, the painting team of Adriano and Ronaldo that had been recommended by friends arrived punctually and began carefully taping the tarp in place across the veranda for their “one week’s” work. Tape! Impressive. Adriano was the boss, and a sweeter guy you could never meet. Next thing we knew, there was paint on top of the rough globs of cemento grosso right over our front door. My statement to Adriano went something like, “if the reconstruction guy won’t prepare the wall for painting and YOU won’t prepare the wall for painting, who is supposed to prepare the wall for painting?” The answer turned out to be  - over the next two weeks that it took them to finish – a combination of MY preparing walls with massa and their returning to various painted areas to sand down the cement, cover it with gesso, sand again, and then paint again. They initially worked diligently and – credit where it is due – painted edges STRAIGHT, a skill that I had not yet encountered in these parts; HOWEVER, Ronaldo failed to use any drop cloths inside or out after the porch was finished, so the stone floor, walls and woodwork throughout the house were covered with splattered paint or smudges of paint where he decided to swat it with his hand. He also burst through locked double doors to the veranda, for which we’re replacing a hinge now. A straight-line-painting brute. The ever-friendly and charming Adriano worked less and less as he passed the time talking on his cell phone, staring into the trees from the scaffolding to spot iguanas, then carrying the iguanas around so everyone could pet them. It was still miraculously impossible not to like him!

Adriano painterAdriano 2

On what we thought was the last day - and I was seven weeks into ever-increasing mental fragility - we discovered that the painters had simply applied the expensive texture paint product right over the scars of repairs on the balcony without any prep whatsoever. It looked awful. No one could answer “why?” after completing the porch below beautifully, because that sort of logical explanation is beyond elusive in this region. They had cleaned up before having a walk-around with us, so all had to be undone, they had to return the next day, we had to buy another US$200 can of the texture product, and all the nice paint work on the balcony got dribbled upon. Ronaldo ended up painting over everything again while Adriano, who had on his list to scrape paint off the stone floors with a wire brush, scraped only a couple of areas and strolled around on his cell phone. They liked to point out that they are evangelicals because in the Northeast that means they don’t drink, they show up on time and they are trustworthy. Lucky for us all, they didn’t proselytize. Over the balcony fiasco, I said: “You two have your church; well, the balcony is my church, my espaço sagrado.” They were sweet about making it right the second time, which probably spared their lives; I had not set foot on it for seven weeks and was coming unglued.

Because Adriano and Ronaldo had to redo a couple of ceilings and fix some repaired areas inside, it turned out that over the two weeks there was work in progress everywhere at once. They couldn’t seem to finish any one area. We couldn’t eat on the porch or the balcony or in the dining room. Their work had to be sanded before Marcos, our caretaker, and I could start painting the interior rooms and exterior wood trim (he paints with the roller and I paint ALL the edges of trim, ceiling, and floor to insure straight lines). I used the waiting periods to repair the crazy walls with putty, buy paints, mix the too-bright colors with neutralizing pigments, and try to keep areas clean enough to function. Marcos and I finally managed to complete the master bedroom, dining room and living room! I may be the only person on earth who completely repaints her house in the same colors she fell in love with 6-1/2 years ago (well, the formulas no longer exist, so similar colors). We still have more to go two weeks after the painters’ departure, and we will not finish now until Newton and I return from our upcoming 6-week trip. Marcos’ assignment while we’re away will be to somehow remove all the paint and remaining cement splatters all over the floors and re-stain the woodwork. I look up and say, “beautiful house;” I look down and say, “slum.” I have had no time for travel preparations and am experiencing the exhaustion that could only be produced by weeks of physical labor and endless anxiety watching my beloved house get improved and destroyed simultaneously. I have survived, if my current state qualifies as survival. It’s better not to mess with me for awhile. BUT LOOK! The beauty is freshly back, and so is my balcony:

Exterior Liv Rm 1




  1. The horror stories of remodeling, or in this case repairing! The frustration must have been consuming. Hopefully, after 6 weeks on the road, home will look wonderful regardless of the status.

  2. Wonderfully entertaining. Love seeing Donna and Cindy. Your house, finally, is beautiful.
    Mary Kay


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