from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brazil Dispatch 37

It’s World Cup Soccer (Futbol) time! Hooray! While I can report the many concerns about the uncompleted infrastructure and the rampant corruption that multiplied the overall cost - resulting in demonstrations and strikes - the indefatigable spirit of Brazil’s national religion is definitely afoot here. The city’s decorations look inviting, the air is electric; I could not have avoided catching the World Cup fever if I tried! The best part of Brazilian culture – hearts over heads, over clocks and calendars - is partly responsible for both sides of this equation. Still, while seven years seemed to be a nice advance warning for preparations, starting more like two years in advance instead seems like a little too much heart this time. Brazilians, bless ‘em, will just flow into those stadiums past construction debris like water through any crack and be happy as clams. (The protesters, not so much.) It’s those ‘head’ people visiting who may be scratching their heads (or have exploding heads?)…or not! Looks like from here they are catching the fever, too!

Natal’s own version of ill-preparedness is our huge new stadium with an incomplete adjoining overpass for cars and an incomplete pedestrian overpass, among other things. 

Here’s a photo Newton took at the first local game: Mexico vs. Cameroon. Looks like the stadium sidewalk project was abandoned rather suddenly:

A bus strike caused there to be only three shuttle buses instead of 30 serving several parking options, so on the first day of Natal games and in the heaviest rains this year, attendees were walking miles to the game. The stadium ran out of food at half-time.

But hark! We also have a new airport in Natal, which opened just two weeks ago. The newspaper has reported that the new access roads are not ready. The route most convenient for us goes through some small community that is considered Natal’s most dangerous. There is inadequate signage currently, though the airport sign FIFA (the World Cup’s governing body) put up themselves, apparently indicated the wrong direction.  Since corrected! Oh, and international flights could not land at the airport initially until federal Immigration was newly situated there. The old airport was hastily reopened so international flights could land! I guess Immigration didn’t get the memo about a new airport? Apparently the bathrooms by the check-in area were originally mis-marked for men and women. Must have been fun to watch!

On a more serious note, the last few days were almost too much to fathom for this city. We had two days and nights of non-stop sluicing rain. The average for the entire month of June fell in two days. One main route to the airport suffered two horrible mudslides, to further complicate maneuvering the city: 

The bus strike is into its seventh day, where only 30% of busses are running. It looks like the cash machines may not have been sufficiently supplied for all the tourists in the city. I think the rain finally stopping, even with some overcast skies remaining, was the happiest event we could ask for: soccer fans from around the world who believed they were arriving in a place with sunny beaches could at least see the beaches, at last!

I was jubilant when I discovered Mexicans everywhere! I just couldn’t resist running up to greet my fellow-North Americans! Now there are loads of Americans at large in Natal. Got a chance to inquire "where from?" and chatter away at bars and shopping centers. Newton and I will be attending the USA vs. Ghana game! (see below)

Additional games in Natal will be:
Japan vs. Greece
Italy vs. Uruguay

On the Cotovelo Beach home front, the ‘In Mare’ construction keeps plodding through its third year. Word is that somebody somebody knows is moving in in October! They paved our dirt road with cobblestones last  December, which has saved us from several tons of blowing dirt! The noisy, fumy trucks continue, but in greatly reduced numbers. We can count on the huge dumpster-container truck arriving regularly, sometimes at 6:40 am, and moving almost exclusively in reverse, beeping us the hell out of our dreams, then slamming several dumpsters into place. Small bulldozers, cement mixers, plenty of circular saws and a lot of hammering still make frequent appearances, not to mention the ubiquitous workers staring unabashedly as they pass. These are the guys that Victor, our liaison with In Mare, told me were “robbers, rapists and murderers;” good thing Victor is a pathological liar! As you can see, the end is in sight at some point this year, and I have lowered my bar from ‘silence and privacy’ to just ‘quieter.’ Chic as the condo is, I will always cherish the memory of that lovely field of coconut trees.

I worked on the house feverishly after we got home from the USA, painting the guest bedrooms, correcting old paint ruin on the wooden door frames with a brown Sharpie marker and a ruler, making decorative pillows on my new sewing machine I brought from San Francisco, and buying mosquito nets for the guest beds. We were expecting Elise, Jake and Larissa in Natal after Carnaval. They were experiencing their first Brazilian Carnaval in Ouro Preto, an historic town in the state of Minas Gerais, joined by their cousins Mariana and Mayra from São Paulo.

Carnaval was plenty of fun here, as well. We went somewhere every day or night for four days, then Newton forfeited his tradition and we stayed home on the fifth day. The annual highlight is the drag parade in the next beach town of Pirangi, and this year we got to boogey down the street (or be crushed terrifyingly in a crowd) with friends Philippe and Dirk, a Belgian couple and their French maid entourage. It was a riot!

Newton and Carlos

Elise could only stay for five days, unfortunately, but Larissa and Jake for ten days of beach, games, restaurants and lovely times on our newly extended dinner table on the balcony.

Here we are returning from the northern dune area by raft:

A big event during the kids’ stay was Newton’s weekly poker group’s game with Jake, the visiting professional. He did not win, but the game did persist until 6:00am, thankfully, atypically.

Here is Jake at the local poker club, which has featured his photo from the Las Vegas World Series of Poker Tournament since 2009!

Our personal social scene in Natal, which has always included numerous gringos from all over, has taken quite a hit in the last few months. I guess the adventurers, dreamers and schemers who would end up in Natal for a spell are gypsies at heart and move on almost inevitably. I have personally lost seven English-speaking girlfriends: one very funny Brit moved to Spain; another lively one returned home; the elegant Malawian moved to London; one smart Brazilian moved to Houston; another worldly one moved to Boca Raton, Florida; the gracious American moved back to California; the industrious Canadian moved to Portugal…not to mention the guy friends, who include a beloved Englishman (more great Brit humor!) and talented Spaniard (the guy can cook!) returning home and a generous American who moved to South Africa. You are MISSED, my Lovelies.

Lorraine and Ana Paula good-bye; WAH!
I still have many beautiful and extraordinary friends left behind, believe me, though many are working and/or raising children. My gabfest-fixes in English are feeling further-between. While I am forced to improve my Portuguese while straining to follow multiple conversations in a group and while telling my occasional story, I have trouble fully participating in a way that satisfies one of my absolute favorite pastimes: good conversation. I have been spoiled. I moved here with a fading short-term memory that had served me faithfully most of my life, so I no longer had the confidence to prioritize mastering the language fully, nor a pressing need. My improvement in Portuguese – while significant after twenty-five years of pidgin during annual two-week visits - can scientifically go only so far. But I am trying.

In April, Newton and a couple of other friends threw a big birthday bash. Here is the spectacular ‘poker cake’ our talented friend Adelaide made in honor of the poker gang: 

It was our friend Carlos’ last night before moving back to Spain. It was a raucous and bittersweet celebration, including the part where we ended up at 3:00am in the pool in our underwear – at least those of us without the foresight to bring a bathing suit. Fun with heavy hearts.

Carlos with Carolina
Newton misses his squash rivals

We spent another dreamy weekend at Pousada La Bonita (pousada is a casual hotel - the word has the same root as “rest” in it) in the beach town of Baia Formosa, south of here. The owners are our fantastic friends, Alicia and Ernesto, from Madrid. We loved our spacious room. I told their 9-year-old son that I felt like Marie Antoinette in there, and he – being well educated at the French school in Natal - immediately gestured a decapitation. I had to explain that I felt like Marie
Antoinette in a palace, not under a guillotine!

A true highlight of the weekend was making our way to a near-deserted beach (by way of a Polish man’s farm, which we paid to trespass), where beer and caipirinhas are sold and the ‘Oyster Lady’ appears upon request with absolutely fresh oysters. 

Here is Alicia with their two adorables, Alicita and Carlitos: 

Here are Ernesto and Newton:

This family enriches our lives in many ways; sharing books is just one of them!

Newton’s annual reunion with his three high school buddies from Rio rolled around again. We returned to Jorge’s country home at Cachoeiras de Macacu, beyond Rio’s twin city, Niteroi. The surrounding area is so gorgeous for hiking and even included a dairy farm visit this year!

Here are Jorge, Luis and Newton with a lesson to us all:

  Here is the fourth musketeer, Moair, with friend:

While Newton and his sister Lilian took their father on a mountain hike for his 80th birthday (yes – he is extremely spry!), I went to visit my dear friend Maria Candida in Rio. We had a marvelous Sunday afternoon trek to the Botanical Gardens, from whence we caught this lovely view of Corcavado:

Maria Candida snapped beautiful Instagram shots all along the way; she is a very talented photographer:

While Maria Candida worked on Monday, I strolled the main street of Leblon - her town - which continues as the main street of Ipanema. I spent my first two visits to Brazil in ’81 and ’82 there. It was so fun to recognize the street names going off towards the famous beach. The stores were expensive, but what a joy to peruse the sophisticated neighborhoods! In anticipation of the 2016 Olympics, this area is torn in two by construction for a subway line. Some World Cup fans wishing to head to Ipanema may be inconvenienced, but the beach is unaltered!

Maria Candida and I splurging on dessert
I rode a bus from Rio above the shore – what a breathtaking ride – and met up with Newton at Angra dos Reis. From there we drove to the popular colonial town of Paraty, which I hadn’t visited in some years. It is preserved with all the original colonial architecture AND the original cobblestone streets that actually present quite a fun challenge to maneuver. Watching your step has always been a part of the Paraty experience!

Our best meal was at Restaurante Caminho do Ouro - really outstanding food. We loved our daylong boat excursion, swimming with the fish in pristine waters and lounging on the boat.

From Paraty we drove to São Paulo to celebrate Newton’s father’s and sister’s birthdays and Mother’s Day. Lilian took me to a weekly dance “jam” she enjoys: an hour and a half of spontaneous physical expression and interaction with other dancers, both professional and amateur, to live music. One particularly earnest young male dancer, who took the interrelating improvisation quite seriously, ended up lying face down across my lap. The first thing that came to mind was to beat out the compelling live rhythm as if that butt in front of me were a drum, so that’s what I did! Of course we morphed into other configurations from there and moved on to other improvs. What exhilarating fun this movement was!

Back in Natal, I applied myself to handmade Rehearsal Dinner invitations for Larissa and Jake’s wedding party. I have just heard that after three weeks, some are now arriving in the USA. I also decided to attempt my mother-of-the-groom dress out of beautiful silk I found in San Francisco - on my new sewing machine. I bought 6 meters of polyester with which to work out details before cutting into the silk. “Plan B” will be to shop frantically in New York when we arrive a few days ahead of the wedding, if this attempt does not pan out!

But the dress project is on an exasperating hold as we are still awaiting the end of the repairs to the repairs - to the cracks that appeared prematurely by ten years in the last year's repairs to the veranda and the living room. 'In Mare' Construction is paying plenty now for the job they blew. Let’s hope the work is finished before my murderous thoughts take wing, as we are into our third week with swaths of the house unavailable, and no one has shown for three days. Tomorrow is a holiday. That makes Friday. My nerves are not up to this.

ADDENDUM: The USA-Ghana Game

Once we arrived inside the stadium and joined the intoxicating swarm of fans - so many Americans!!! - I was able to forget all the problems outside, even the ones inside (the women's bathroom having no paper and our section on the tickets apparently not existing). The American fans were decked out in full regalia. The game was so fascinating to watch; I just love the Ghanians' incredible footwork, like the kids on Brazilian beaches! Ghana took much more control of the ball than the USA, so I was glad they managed a well-earned goal. The USA's two goals were stunning, especially the first one, accomplished in thirty-five seconds after kick-off! The second was a head-shot. I am thrilled that I got to witness such a heightened state of euphoria. I may even end up at a second game, now that I'm a convert.

With three games per day televised, there is nearly a constant gathering of friends to watch and drink beer. It's like Carnaval, where Brazilians train for the marathon celebration their entire lives. Gringa me...out of steam pretty fast. It was all well worth two viewing parties yesterday to end up at the big Ghana street fest with live music. I was in heaven dancing with a Ghanian and gabbing with two others. The World Cup is a phenomenal event for so many reasons!

Apologies for such a long catch-up. No further dispatches till we return from the USA after Jake’s upcoming wedding! 



  1. So much fun in so little time!

  2. Sorry for the delays in commenting, These last several weeks have been somewhat complicated, but now so nice to read your Brazil Dispatch. You bring such life to the country and a perspective that we up north just don't get to appreciate. We almost never see the good news or the good side of that wonderful country. You must be so busy with upcoming events and trying to keep up with futbol. I am especially rooting for Brazil to beat Germany and make it to the finals. You are one busy lady seeming to have the time of your life even among fretful circumstances. Thanks for sharing it with us.



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