Friday, September 26, 2008

Close Encounters With Scary Blondes

I promise I'll explain the scary part in a minute. It's not frightening a la Sarah Palin, though. That woman makes me want to cry and hide under my mother's skirts, wherever in the Universe that beautiful creature may be at this point. I hope American voters have sense enough to send her packing back to Alaska where she can sit at the window and watch for any island-hopping Russians. But first I must tell you that I've been riding the buses in Miami again; if you're following this blog you already are aware of what happens to me when I take public transportation in this slice of Paradise. Like this afternoon: I sit down and immediately am assaulted by a tiny old lady in drugstore-style shoes waving a Jehovah's Witness Atalaya in my face: Habla Spanish? Habla Spanish? Yikes!!

I met the first blonde on the flight from Rio. I swear I listened to every word she said, while my eyes were riveted by artificial nails with a French manicure and a mouth exactly like the Marilyn lips sofa. She was a nice, friendly, well-meaning lady, but when she got to the part where she attended the Landmark Institute, I shuddered. You see, I'm allergic to self-help-whatever. It's usually really, really good for the person telling you what to do with your life, I don't doubt that. They're not the ones wasting precious dollars on books and seminars.

I ran across the second blonde on the bus to South Beach. The exact opposite: overweight, barely able to walk, I held her hand and helped her sit down. She then launched into a long tale of woes that included stomach surgery to lose a couple of hundred pounds, diabetes, and some awful degenerative disease; she was on her way to a public clinic. Oh, to be reminded of obesity and other ills endemic to this country as we crossed bridges over such blue water under azure Miami skies!

Maybe at this point I don't need to explain why two such dissimilar women put the fear of God into me? And perhaps it might have been a good idea to accept the brochure offered me? Or is it just time to fly back to the country where assistance for self-defeating beliefs still may come in the shape of a figa or throwing white flowers into the sea? And tell everyone to keep eating the fruit and walk right past Burger King?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I'm flying up to Miami next Tuesday. One of the people I'm going to see during this visit is my doctor. Not that there aren't excellent physicians in Rio, mind you. It's just that he's been taking care of me for ten years now and he knows me. Not only that, he puts up with this recalcitrant patient with patience and good humor. He knows I'm headstrong and rebellious and that I like to decide what to do: taking this med doesn't seem like a good idea, I say, could I try yoga instead? With the one exception of my bones, for which at this point there's only one treatment alternative. Anyway, I've been thinking about him and what would happen if we had to discuss my diet and nutrition. He might get a bit frustrated. Because, you see, I've been living in the country of abundance. So, besides words that would be familiar to him, like, say, organic arugula, or maybe even papaya, I'd have to recite an interminable list of rather poetic-sounding names: bacuri, caqui, fruta-do-conde (sweetsop), pitanga, cupuaçu, mangaba, jabuticaba, jaca (jackfruit), graviola (soursop), buriti, goiaba (guava), caju, and taperebá, to name just a few of the fruits that I consume. I'd have to explain that I drink coconut water for potassium, passion fruit juice to calm down, caju juice for vitamin C; that caquis are great for calcium and iron, fruta-do-conde for potassium and vitamin C, and on and on. See what I mean?

I've mentioned before that I was supposed to make a list of all the things that I love in Brazil. Well, I've just written a short one...Pictured here are some goiabas at a street market in São Paulo; they're loaded with antioxidants. If you'd like to see more photos of Brazilian fruits and veggies, pay a visit to the pages dedicated to food shopping on my website.

Talk to you sometime in October!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bossa Not So Nova...or Maybe Not?

Here's a picture of a mousepad I got from my sister-in-law in São Paulo. She went to see the exhibition on the fiftieth anniversary of bossa nova. There's another one in Rio at the moment, and a new feature film called "Desafinados," and reissues of classic records, and shows everywhere. The celebrations have reached an Olympic (I mean the mountain, not the games) kind of height with three shows by an elderly, grumpy João Gilberto. I wasn't about to go fight for tickets to see an artist that should have (and did, sort of) retired a long time ago. So, what I'm telling you here is second- or third-hand information gleaned from newspaper columnists and disgruntled concertgoers. He was systematically late (not ten minutes kind of late, but hours) and not exactly in the best of moods to play and sing for fans who paid a not-insignificant percentage of their monthly income for the experience. I heard that in New York City he wasn't even a wee bit late and that tickets cost much less, which means exactly what? When in the U.S. do as Americans do or that Brazilian don't deserve anything better? I honestly think that he should have stayed home playing for himself and his little daughter and fans should have spent the money to buy some of his classic recordings. You get the artist in top form without having to put up with the man, who, by all accounts, wasn't the easiest human being even in his twenties and thirties. These days, if I want to go out of my apartment to hear the smooth sounds and delicate swing of bossa nova (with or without a pinch of electronica), I choose Celso Fonseca, Chris Delano, Leo Gandelman, or BossaCucaNova (their new CD will be out this month). These artists, plus Lisa Ono in Japan, have kept the flame alive and their sounds are as fresh as the French bread I get twice a day from the bakery across the street. Even if it's 50 years later.

I was talking to Carlos Alberto, owner of Toca do Vinícius in Ipanema on Sunday and he promised me a list of his all-time favorite bossa nova records. While we wait, I decided to post a few of mine:

1 - "Chega de Saudade," João Gilberto
2 - "Getz/Gilberto," Stan Getz, João Gilberto, Tom Jobim
3 - "The Legendary João Gilberto"
4 - "Isso É Bossa Nova," Leila Pinheiro
5 - "Garota de Ipanema," Nara Leão and Roberto Menescal, recorded in Japan

You can also look for CDs by Tamba Trio, and the recent releases with the music of Moacir Santos. Leave comments with your own favorites, please!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Carnaval in September

Say what? Well, today is Sete de Setembro, Brazil's national holiday. The day started with military parades all over the country, but some people really know how to celebrate. I'm talking about our neighborhood bloco de carnaval, which was founded on this day twenty-one years ago. It's almost five-thirty in the afternoon and the samba is in full swing a block away from me. All I need to do is open my windows and start dancing. No need even to go join the small crowd, if I don't want to. I took this picture earlier today as I got off the bus coming back from the market in Ipanema. This lovely lady is their proud standard bearer.

I've mentioned Brazil's national music here twice this week, so I feel sort of obligated to reveal some of my preferences. Starting with sambas de enredo: I think my all-time favorites are "O Amanhã" and "É Hoje." Paulinho da Viola's "Foi um rio que passou em minha vida" (technically not in this category, but composed in honor of Portela) has got to be one of the most gorgeous songs ever to come out of Brazil. As far as songwriters, names that come immediately to mind and must, therefore, be at the top of my list: Cartola and, I must write his name again, Paulinho da Viola. You can try looking for these songs and samba composers on YouTube...I'm sure there's plenty out there. But here are the beginning lines for the first song I mentioned: A cigana leu o meu destino, eu sonhei...The gypsy read my palm and I dreamed...Easy to like it, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Perhaps It's the Pitangas...

For several weeks now I've been debating whether I really want to go back to the U.S. There's no doubt in my mind that eventually I will, for reasons both of the heart and practicality. But when I think about it, I'm immediately swamped by premature feelings of longing for all the things I love about Brazil. I was told to make lists: a list of the things that I enjoy down here, a list of the things that make me crazy; a list of all that I miss from the U.S., my beautiful daughter being number one. Lists are supposed to help me make this painful decision: at my age, I can't afford (financially and emotionally) to make another move such as this one. If (or rather when) I go back, Brazil will become once again a place to visit a couple of times a year, visits carefully timed to coincide with the season for jaboticaba and pitanga, to see blooming quaresmeiras or abricó-de-macaco, to pick up the newest style in bikinis at a favorite store in Ipanema. I have yet to take pencil and paper (I refuse to do this on my MacBook Pro!) to start on one of them, but in my mind images and words have been floating around for days on end: all the fruit I don't think I can live without, the forests of the Brazilian tropics, the friendliness of perfect strangers everywhere. But I think that, without realizing it, I've started to say goodbye in a very subtle way: I linger over my breakfast papaya, I savor every drop of my coconut water or my passionfruit juice, and I pay daily visits to the pitangueiras at the Botanical Garden. My favorite tree is loaded with tiny, orangy-red fruit and the pathways are dotted with squashed, half-pecked pitangas. Birds love them as well as we do! I picked these three up and arranged them atop a nice mossy rock.

Whatever happens, these have been unforgettable months! Before I forget, included in my list (but fortunately easily smuggled into the country) are these inexpensive, adorable, miniscule dried flowers that people dye in a rainbow of colors. I've always been extremely fond of them; is there a better way to add a splash of red and fuchsia to brighten up a room?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Without Sadness There's no Samba *

I didn't make this line up, I pinched it from a documentary I saw this afternoon called "O Mistério do Samba" (The Mystery of Samba). I didn't really know what to expect from this film besides great music. And indeed, there was plenty of that: I even caught myself singing along a couple of times (oops, sorry, but great sambas are irresistible!). But what I enjoyed the most were the stories, sad and funny, told by the great sambistas and singers of Portela, the revered Old Guard of the samba school based in the suburb of Oswaldo Cruz. And the little excursions to the tiny suburban houses and backyards and bars where they have been living their modest lives and composing their incomparable songs. The men are great storytellers, but I found the women especially moving and hilarious: in one scene at a hairdresser's, one of them is talking about her philanderer of a husband; she still remembers the day when she went after him, picking up stones from the street and throwing them at him. Another unforgettable scene: a group of sambistas is sitting around a table, drinking beer, playing, singing. An older woman walks by with her shopping bag, stops, dances a few samba steps, bows to them, and keeps on walking. According to the director, this little scene was completely spontaneous and unexpected. I'm glad that they could film it; it's precious and revealing of the soul of this most musical of cities.

At the end, we're all applauding and, mirroring what had just happened on screen, an older man dances a few samba steps, too. And I'm thinking: what a good reason to stick around a while longer! If you come to Rio, don't forget to check the papers for rodas de samba, including the ones at Portela! The women of Portela's Old Guard are also renowned cooks and the subject of a gem of a book called "Batuque na Cozinha."

* In Portuguese: Sem tristeza não tem samba. And this reminds me: yes, there is that contagious rhythm and percussion, but samba is also sweet melodies and melancholy, passionate stories.

Photo (featuring singers Marisa Monte and Zeca Pagodinho with members of the Velha Guarda da Portela) credit: Bruno Veiga