from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Brazil Dispatch 41

Vexation; tranquil time; buffoonery; ocean's rhythm; wacky political upheaval; afternoon lighting; solitude; good friends; bad roads; rainy season green; ridiculous drivers; delicious food; beach litter; languid palms; our beautiful house...mold, termites, ants, rust, cracks.

At nine-and-a-half years on Cotovelo Beach, we waver between cherishing the abiding, soul-nourishing beauty around our home and getting the hell away from here for sanity and civilization. Our immediate solution is partly determined by the strength of the dollar, which precludes our selling the house any time soon, and travel, partly via home exchanges we continue to arrange in Europe and the US. The alternation is workable. The long-term overall solution lies in another place...yet undetermined.

Some of the local random nonsense that never stops confounding me:

>Last time we returned to Brazil from our travels, the speed limit on our highway to Natal had been changed from 80kph to 70kph in some parts, and to 60kph in others. Mind you, this is a good 4-lane highway with little traffic, but we're supposed to slow down to 43 or 37 miles per hour for no apparent reason. When the traffic circle offers a left onto a two-lane, busy, curvy road, then you can drive 80kph. Wh-what?

>The bottom shelf on the refrigerator door became disattached on one end, then fell off. Newton called the repair company designated for this brand, described the problem and gave our address, along with the requested landmark reference: the huge ‘In Mare’ condo across the street. After no one arrived at our house that day and no call, Newton inquired. The repair guy sent all the way out here from the city was informed only about the ‘In Mare’ part. The condo doorman told the guy that we were not there (as if we lived there?). Next day - and this time Newton insisted that the repair guy have our number...duh…he called us with the exact same story. No one at the repair company ever gave him our actual address. When he finally arrived, he informed us that the only way to replace the tiny broken piece of plastic that holds the shelf is to buy a new entire refrigerator door! The company could have told Newton that on the phone and we could have decided to fashion a home-repair then and there, but no: two trips, gasoline and ethanol both at outrageous prices, repairman out two mornings. It's hard for Americans to imagine such inefficiency and wasted overhead, yet somehow refreshing to know there is a place on earth where the bottom line doesn't figure in at all! (Newton fashioned a great home repair, by the way.)

>I took our two downloaded and printed Federal Write-in Ballots for the New York Primary to the post office with a month to arrive. This year, the Brazilian postal choices were: around US$4.00 for arrival in 30 days...too risky (by boat??); around US$25 for arrival in seven days - DAMN; or around US$38 for fastest, ”Cedex" - no. I kept asking and confirming to make sure I wasn't missing some Portuguese in there - how could $4 or $25 be the choices? But apparently they were. The kind woman who heads our county Board of Elections knows how inept our mail is here and pledged to count these votes without our going through it all again once the official ballot was available, which is always too late. Bless her; we didn't have to cough up a second $25. She confirmed when they arrived miraculously in eight days!

>The exterior security alarm sensor on the next-door neighbor's house is in the path of the wind. The owners rarely use the house, so this goes off frequently with any well-aimed gust. The other day it went off twice at 5:30am. Then it went off seven times in succession another day, the day I contemplated murder. I always call the alarm company to complain and they always respond with lots of rapid Portuguese about vaguely looking into it. After several weeks of this, Newton found out (the day it went off eighteen times in succession!) that the alarm company cannot tell when the alarm goes off because the sensor is missing a chip. How nice for the neighbors, who believe an alarm company is watching over their property. I'm lobbying for a re-positioning, along with the damn chip. The absent neighbor on the other side has a faulty alarm that goes off randomly and bellows for four ENDLESS minutes before shutting down. You know they love the "gringa nervosa" at the alarm company!

>I won't revisit the details of waiting in line at the supermarket while the shopper ahead of me pulls out a stack of bills to pay just when I think it's my turn; nor walking through the four steps required to buy something at many stores because there is just the one employee trusted to handle money; nor staying sharp behind the wheel for sudden left-turners from the right shoulder, for example, or the "dreamy drifters" who mosey over the line into my lane without noticing; nor waiting an hour at the Federal Police after they start processing my residency card renewal, before being told they don't renew more than three months ahead of expiration (not mentioned on the site) and I was three weeks too soon (we'll be traveling); nor that our two day per week cleaning lady - whom I otherwise like - is so rough with the broom and the ceiling corner duster that she knocks the paint and plaster off our walls and baseboards, which I painted. That crashing sound: OUCH. It is common knowledge in Brazil that maids have the last word...SO, be glad you won't have to endure more complaining!

Besides seeing excellent friends - all of whom are very busy - there are pleasures we treasure here:

>A book in the hammock is hard to beat all 'round, but as the afternoon glow ahead of sunset baths the balcony in warm orange tones, I look west where the silhouettes of palm trees stand against the painted sky. Sunset is at 5:30 to 6:00pm year-round. Soon after, I cannot see the words on the page any longer and descend to start the evening with Newt.

>At breakfast and at lunch on the front porch we are visited by a humming bird. This recent one is bright green and fearless. He perched on a tall twig Newton had not yet pruned and remained there in revery for some time, unperturbed by my careful approach to study his color. With his rapid wings stilled for the entire spell, I could see the zig-zag of black edges along the iridescent green and his punk, spikey look that becomes streamlined when he hovers over the flowers.

>When we are not traveling, our Cotovelo routine invariably kicks in. I know I have written about most of this, but the joy persists: 

We love our late Sunday morning Mexican omelette tacos, with no less than four sauces to spice them up. The local New Mexican who owns the Mexican restaurant sells us his mango hot sauce, mean chili sauce and corn tortillas. We add salsa we schlep from Trader Joes and Pickapeppa sauce from Jamaica. 

Our Friday "wing spot"
Every Friday afternoon we take a picnic to the grassy area above the beach: buffalo chicken wings, cucumber/tomato salad and VERY COLD beer. If it's raining, we carry our beach chairs, cooler, toothpicks and opener out the back door and have our picnic under the carport! If that's too wet, we carry everything to the front porch and set up the beach chairs next to the dining table or the sofa, hoping any passers-by ignore the irony. Açai, the sherbet made from the super-nutritional berry of the same name, is our default dessert.

Before our caretaker, Marcos, leaves for the interior every Friday, Newton drives to the make-shift umbrellas and coolers beside the highway - where the freshest seafood is sold - to buy our shrimps for the weekend. Marcos boils and shells them for us. Our usual is camarão alho/oleo (shrimp with garlic and oil) with sautéed mustard greens on the side, but Chef Newton sometimes makes Camarão do Diabo in spicy tomato sauce or Moqueca de Camarão, a recipe from Bahia with coconut milk, coconut oil, peppers, onions and tomatoes. For more variety, we sometimes opt for the fresh whole red snapper baked on top of slices of onion and potato. No - I am not a cook; I wash all the greens, make the salad, and always wash the dishes. Oh, and I make the wings on Friday. Makes a nice couple. We normally walk or sit on the beach with a beer on Saturdays and Sundays and then come home to lunch, but shrimp and toothpicks by the water work fine, too. 

We started our habit of dinner on the balcony some time back, as I've said, but those evenings are such a respite from any chagrin. The most elegant restaurant in Natal cannot compete with the ambiance of the lighting behind the plants, the breeze off the ocean, the ocean sound. For some happy reason, no alarms, no trucks, no loud-speaker cars with ads ever occur in the evenings. Just food, wine, and my phenomenal husband. And there are no residents on our side of the In Mare condo in front, apart from the two that have shown up almost never. 

>The moon on the water; stars and planets overhead; the bright indigo of the sky around full moon nights; Jupiter dominating; Orion showing up religiously. It is when you know you are a part of the whole; it is when you know earth is your home.

Quickly, because I have strained everyone's attention, I will mention events of recent months:

OK, Carnaval. As I have said before, if you are not born into Carnaval in Brazil, you have to adapt...often badly. This year, we entered the festivities a week ahead with a concert on Ponta Negra Beach. It had one of our favorite singers, Krystal, a completely happy crowd, was well-organized (note: I said 'well-organized!) with sufficient port-o-lets, cold beer and...oh dear, a great place to plant ourselves close to the stage. Let me be brief: when we left and went to the cool food truck event for burgers, I couldn't hear what Newton was saying...Mishap #1: deafness. 

Stage view in front

Beach view behind us
The night before the night before Carnaval, we went to a downtown plaza that was so full of people, there was no space to move...yet we began the pilgrimage to the restaurant where we thought we wanted to land by pushing our way through. I realized at some near-panic point - being claustrophobic - that I was in the middle of an impenetrable ocean of bodies without end, and must have looked so desperate that many of the people around me very kindly tried to make passage possible. It was an ordeal, but I survived, wishing only to not faint and fall underfoot and die. My goal for the next five days was to not be in a jam-packed crowd again.

Long story short, though not short enough, in the ensuing four days I managed to have my foot stomped on by a high heel, have a lit cigarette touch my back and lose a patch of skin from my knee cap, scraping it against a very rough concrete wall. Why so few mishaps? Because we spent the subsequent nights of Carnaval at Ponta Negra Plaza, where Gringo's Bar offered a Carnaval special, and where I could hover with some air space around me by a wall fan while Newton could, at will, venture outside the barricades into the throng to approach the stage and see the music groups imported from the South up close. 

Praça Ponta Negra

Reuniting at Gringo's Bar
This was the first year that Carnaval "blocos" sprang up in the neighborhood. We got a big kick out of running outside or up to the balcony to witness this development in Cotovelo!

The neighbor's house party formed a bloco that spilled onto the street

Carnaval ended and I was still here!

With the dollar about twice as strong recently as most of our time in Brazil, we began to frequent the fine French restaurant in a hotel and go to Camarões, one of the best restaurants in Natal, for lunches. As the dollar has fallen (and promises to continue with the impending impeachment of President Dilma, who is not an oligarch), we feel poorer and check our spending frenzy, despite the dollar remaining far stronger then our normal. Mostly we buy better wine!

Newton's mother Jannice and sister Lilian came for a week's visit:

Jannice in the condo pool where we own an investment lot

Lilian in the condo lap pool
At Carumupim Beach

On a catamaran pleasure trip on Rio Potengi
Natal's bridge over Rio Potengi, near the ocean

 Couples are supposed to kiss as the boat passes under the bridge, though we were mostly giggling.
We are about to travel again, this time to São Paulo and Rio. Elise is joining us in Natal for three days first, then we will meet up with Jake and Larissa and Newton's family in São Paulo for a week at our old vacation colony on the shore. We spent every Easter break of our kids' youth at this colony - their favorite place - where they could run around freely (no cars). Larissa will finally see the spot she has heard so much about! From there Newton and I will join his three high school buddies and families outside Rio for their annual reunion.

I am rushing to finish this and publish before we fly out, as we just discovered that the "maresia" - ocean sand and salt in the air - has taken another victim: my iPad. It will no longer power up, so I'll be trying to catch moments on Newton's laptop when it is free on this trip.


1 comment:

  1. When are you going to write a book? Such prose!


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