21 November 2011

As Time Goes By . . .

There's a line I like in the cowboy flick Open Range; it's when Robert Duvall's character says, "Ten years! Y'know what they call that? They call that a decade!" That line has recently been popping into my head as Mark and I creep up on ten years in Brazil. I want to wedge some chewing tobacco in my cheek just like Robert Duvall and spit out "Ten years! Y'know what they call that? They call that a decade!" But I don't. The reference is somewhat obscure, and I think it would be unseemly for me to be spitting out chewing tobacco.

When I was a kid, ten years were an eternity. As an adult ten years seem more like a blip. During this "blip" that I've lived in Búzios I've witnessed enormous changes, both positive and negative. We all rejoiced when the Búzios authorities finally built a hospital, but from what I hear it doesn't serve the population as well as the little 24-hour polyclinic it replaced did, and I hope that if something bad ever happens to us we can find a helicopter to get us to Rio. They also finally stationed a fire brigade in town, but the fire truck often has no water in it and can't answer calls. The construction industry has been energized by enormous population growth, but the new houses and condominiums translate into more cars, more congestion, more noise and more strain on the infrastructure.

Our basic services, though, have improved in these ten years. The local utility's supply of fresh water via pipes along the beach used to be so spotty that we had to supplement with deliveries from tank trucks. Now water is piped daily and plentifully, no trucks needed. We have always had electricity, but that service, too, used to be spotty. Now, Búzios has been chosen to be the first "energy intelligent city" in all of Brazil. (I can't wait to find out what this really means. They start rewiring next year.) Initially our access to the Internet was via a slow and frustrating dial-up service. One decade later and we have super fast broadband service.

When I got here Búzios still showed something of its tranquil origins as a little fishing village, with picturesque fishing boats bobbing in the bays and fresh fish markets dotting the waterfronts. The boats and the markets are still there, but now so are hulking transatlantic cruise ships, which anchor off the coast and loom over the tiny downtown buildings. During an October to March cruise season Búzios welcomes upwards of 300 of these floating cities, sometimes four at a time. Thousands upon thousands of people in brightly colored cruise wear are disgorged from the ships. If you don't own a T-shirt shop or an ice cream parlor, stay inside!

Shopping has improved. Ten years ago you couldn't find anchovies (which for me are an essential ingredient in any pasta tomato sauce). There was one large chain supermarket at the time and one mom-and-pop grocery. Not an anchovy to be had in either of them. One decade later and Búzios has four additional markets, and all six now carry at least two different brands of anchovies. Now we're talking progress!

Ten years ago our only available "pit stop" on the drive between Rio and Búzios was a place called Delícias do Rancho. It was a funky complex, reminiscent of the kind of thing you'd stop at on Route 66 in the 1950s, with a restaurant, a store, a series of souvenir shops, a petting zoo, horses for kids to ride and a chapel. The bathrooms? Just acceptable. Now we stop at the super modern Oasis Graal, which looks like an airport minus the planes and the landing strips, but with the food court and duty free shops. And their bathrooms? Clean, bright and gleaming. More progress!

As I reflect on this passage of time, this decade-long cycle we've been through, I'm comforted that some things never change. Our neighborhood bakery still prepares delicious cheese baguettes every day at 3:30 pm. The annual International Búzios Film Festival is always in November, and the Argentine heartthrob Ricardo Darin always shows up. The sun still rises every morning in the east and still sets every night in the west. For as long as we stay put in this house we will continue to head to our terrace at the end of the day to watch this glorious spectacle:

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