27 January 2014

The Other Búzios

Much is made of the natural beauty of Búzios, whether in travel articles, photographic essays, or tourism promotions — adjectives like stunning, gorgeous, breathtaking and spectacular abound, not to mention the incredibly overused It's a paradise. Búzios has been the backdrop for several television soap operas and countless fashion shows, and is now the preferred choice in Brazil for what's called "destination weddings," all for the simple reason that Búzios is stunning and the views are spectacular. Mark and I live here in large part because of the beauty around us. Look at our own view, for goodness' sake — does this not stir one's soul?

If the people who work in the tourism industry had their druthers, though, they would whisk their clients straight from the airports right into their Búzios lodgings or onto the beaches in buses with heavily-tinted windows. Since that's neither possible nor practical, most visitors to this dazzling resort do get plenty of opportunity to see the other Búzios, the much-less-glamorous Búzios, the Búzios that photographers and copy writers are paid to ignore. Today I feel like giving this other Búzios a little recognition:

20 January 2014

A Suitcase in Berlin

"I still have a suitcase in Berlin 
That's why I have to go there sometime soon. 
The joys of days gone by 
Are all still in my little suitcase.  

I still have a suitcase in Berlin 
It stays there, too, and that makes sense. 
In this way it's worth a trip, 
Because whenever I'm homesick, then I go back."*

Nobody delivers Ich hab' noch einen koffer in Berlin like Marlene Dietrich, though Hildegard Knef, with whom Marlene "shares" the above video, comes close. The lyrics are evocative, poignant, and tug especially hard at the heartstrings of those of us who live far from our former homes and have bits and pieces of our lives folded, boxed and stored all over the place. A friend of ours here in Búzios, a chef, has her winter clothes hanging in a closet in Amsterdam and a trunk full of summer dresses in Cannes. Now that she's between jobs, she also has an entire restaurant's worth of kitchen equipment sitting in her mother's house up in the Brazilian mountains. Mark and I still have a couple of boxes of stuff in a basement in Massachusetts, including my 46-year-old collection of theatrical playbills, ticket stubs included. And my hard-won high school trophy pictured here — second place for original oratory in the National Forensic League's 1967 district tournament — still sits on my mother's fireplace mantle. Well, at least I think it does . . .

Virtually all of us have had the experience of leaving some of our things in our parents’ attics when we go off to college, or to settle into our first jobs. Then we start spreading out, leaving toothbrushes and a change of clothes with boyfriends/girlfriends. As we mature we start to consolidate in homes of our own. But life takes its twists and turns, we start moving and changing course, and before we realize it we once more have "stuff" all over the world, and we’re the subjects of one of George Carlin’s most brilliant riffs:

In this five-bedroom house Mark and I currently live in, we have what we call our Room of Last Resort, the fifth bedroom that just naturally turned itself into a storage room. We may not have any children who can leave their "stuff" with us in that room, but over the years this Room of Last Resort has become a repository for the personal effects of homeless or (sadder still) deceased friends. When our friend Hugo died, another friend who was clearing out his house asked if we could store some of his possessions until his family was able to come from Argentina and take charge of it all. Of course we said yes, and for at least a year we stored boxes and boxes of Hugo's personal effects. It was a bit morbid, I admit. I teared up every time I wandered into the room and something of Hugo's caught my eye. But Hugo's family finally came and took most of his stuff back to Argentina with them. They didn't take everything, though, and to this day we still have some of Hugo's stuff. Not to mention Hugo's girlfriend's artwork, which hung all over his house. Living now in Buenos Aires, she's told us that she doesn't want the art back — it's too painful for her. So that, too, sits in our Room of Last Resort.

    Some of the unclaimed artwork . . .          

. . . in our Room of Last Resort.

And then there are our temporarily dispossessed friends. We stored a king-sized mattress and box spring set for a former employee of ours for six months, while he was in the northeast of Brazil going through his final training for work on Petrobras offshore platforms. And if you read my prior blog post, you'll recall I spoke of a friend who lost her house in a landslide in December. Whatever she was able to salvage is now stored in three places, and one of those places is — you guessed it — our Room of Last Resort. Sie hat noch einen koffer in Búzios.

*Ralph Maria Siegel, composer/Aldo von Pinelli, lyrics

13 January 2014

It Could Have Been Worse

Dear Diary,
Dear Hugo
Whew, we made it through another Christmas/New Year in Búzios! This year Mark and I played it smart, we stocked the house with food and drink and staples before Christmas, and any day-to-day needs we had for fresh fruits and vegetables we took care of on foot. You should have seen the bumper-to-bumper traffic, and you should have seen the tempers flaring. I always have to remind myself, it’s as bad as this at high season in the Hamptons, it’s as bad as this at high season in St. Tropez . . . but you know this already, I’ve been complaining to you for years. This year our neighborhood was amazingly quiet. We had a small New Year’s Eve dinner celebration with just a few friends and even the electricity cooperated all night! So for the first time in many a year, I had no complaints. As Hugo, an old friend of ours, used to say, It could have been worse.

But for others, unfortunately, it was much, much worse this year. There was that devastating storm I told you about on December 18th, remember? It was the most violent storm Búzios had experienced in 17 years! Well, we were okay because we’re up on a hill. A leak here, a leak there, nothing that towels couldn’t sop up. But on the day after the storm there was Búzios being declared a disaster area on national television news! Many low-lying areas were completely flooded. And we just learned that a friend of ours, who was traveling at the time of the storm, returned to a house that had been destroyed by a landslide of mud and trees that came down from the mountain behind her house. She stayed with us for a while, fairly shell-shocked. I suppose Hugo would say that it could have been worse for her — she could have been in her house at the time.

Some of our unfortunate new public transportation systems here in Búzios . . .

And I didn’t tell you about another friend, who was riding along on her motor scooter on New Year’s Eve day when she was side-swiped by a car. She ended up spending New Year’s Eve in the hospital emergency room, can you imagine? And she told us about the long line of people waiting to be X-rayed, the majority of whom had also been in traffic accidents that day. I’m telling you, diary, it’s crazy out there on the streets! Hundreds of thousands of people come to spend the holidays in Búzios, and all of them get angry and impatient and imprudent when they find that they can’t get where they’re going except at a crawl. Well, it could have been a lot worse for our friend. She was cut and bruised and abraded, but she survived, and with no broken bones.

Okay, diary, thanks as always for listening. Mark and I had a good start to the New Year and for that we are grateful. Brazil is gearing up for a big year ahead, and I’ve got to prepare for all the blog posts it will generate. There’s the World Cup (all soccer, all the time!); there’s always Carnaval; there’s the Presidential election (protests, corruption, crime, a no-grow economy, a failing health system — Dilma still has it in the bag); and there’s even an outside chance Brazil will accept Edward Snowden’s request for asylum, which would be an incredibly interesting turn of events. All in all, things could be a lot worse.