24 November 2014


When I moved to Brazil, along with all the excitement of a new home, a new language, new friends, new routines and a new angle on the world, I must admit that I also had a funny feeling, a persistent, underlying unease that I couldn’t quite put into words. There were plenty of distractions, of course. Picking our way through the minefield of visas and other bureaucratic procedures was distracting. Finding our way around the aisles of the local supermarkets was distracting. Valiantly treading the waters of three- and four-language dinner parties was distracting. But sometimes, in the quiet of an evening, there it was. That low hum of disquiet. What was wrong with me? Well, recently I’ve begun to hear of a new medical condition, a condition of extreme anxiety regarding opportunities, interactions, experiences and events that a person might miss. Could it be? Had I developed FOMO, the dread Fear Of Missing Out?

Jersey Boys, bis
There I was in my first month in Brazil, June 2002, right between the third and fourth seasons of The Sopranos! What was I going to do? Was I supposed to just fuggedaboutit? My distance from American television (and our pigheadedness about not subscribing to cable television here) also made it impossible for me to follow the newer shows like Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black, and other shows I don’t even know about. And what about new movie releases? I hadn’t realized that all movies are not released in all countries. Was I going to end up missing some? How was I going to make sense of the Oscars? (Turns out that the rights to the Oscars are tightly controlled, the show is not live-streamed, so I couldn’t watch it anyway.) And I had a real moment’s pause once I realized that I would miss the new books written by my favorite authors, the ones known collectively as "the Jonathans."* I found what I could in the used-book stores in Rio, but not all of the books I wanted to read made their way south of the border.

So how do I square our not subscribing to cable TV — so that we don’t sit and watch English-language shows — with that slight disquiet I feel about missing out on those very shows? I don’t square it, which tells me that my particular strain of FOMO might not be as dire as others. If it were, I’d have signed up for cable and Netflix. I have done one thing, though, and one thing only, to keep myself connected, and that was to get a Kindle. Now I have all the books I want right in my hands, available any time of day or night at the touch of a one-click Whispersync — whatever that actually is. The irony here is that some of my favorite authors have stopped being so prolific. One or two of them haven’t written a new book in ten years, so I haven’t missed a thing!

It took some time for me to wrench my core focus away from the USA and all that I might be missing there and focus instead on where I was actually living. Art and theater and concerts and films and novels and high-quality TV shows are created all over the world, and some reach the States late, and some reach the States not at all. Americans miss out on plenty, too. So do I suffer from FOMO? I admit that I did have a low-level case at first. But I’ll side with William Wordsworth, who wrote "For such loss . . . abundant recompense."** My loss has turned into my gain. (And of course, if I really, really need to, I can always just go out and buy the boxed set of all six seasons of the Sopranos!)

*Ames, Franzen, Lethem, Miles, Safran-Foer
**Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, William Wordsworth, 1798

17 November 2014

Our Humdinger of a Hummingbird

Butterfly is such a pretty word in any language — papillon (fr), borboleta (port), mariposa (sp), schmetterling (ger), sommerfugl (dan), kamehameha (hawaiian). Equally pleasing to the ear and to the eye is hummingbird — oiseau-mouche (fr), beija-flor (port), chupaflor (sp), manu hu (hawaiian). Hummingbirds are very much on my mind these days. Once a year for three years running Mark and I have enjoyed the brief company of a hummingbird family. Now — forgive me if I sound like Wild Kingdom's Jim Fowler — the mother, the sole nest builder and caregiver of the species, has repeatedly built her nest in one arm of a hanging lamp under the roof of our terrace pergola. I guess "location, location, location" is as important to hummingbirds as it is to humans, because our terrace lamp has apparently been found to be eminently suitable. Although the lamp swings fiercely in the wind, it is well protected from predators and rain.

Here's the lamp, sans nest.

Here's the mother, scoping out the area. Quite amazing for a hummingbird to remain so still, but house hunting is serious business!

The hummingbird nest is an amazing architectural creation, a dense cup that seems to spring up literally overnight. It’s made from moss and lichen, from feathers and small bits of bark and leaves, from plant down or fuzz, and most crucially, from spider silk, which is used both to bind the nest together and provide the necessary elasticity for the nest to expand as the babies grow (think of a pregnant woman’s stretch pants).

Only one to two eggs are laid. There isn't space for any more, no matter how elastic the nest!

Here's the mother hummingbird, patiently  at work.

And then Mark and I sit back and watch the birds grow. I admit to feeling enormous guilt for having snapped some of these pictures, because every time I approached and held the camera above the babies they sensed the shadow and thought Mom had come with food. It was hard for me to walk away from those open, yearning, hungry mouths!

The entire development process is quick, a mere five weeks or so from start to finish. One day I went looking for the babies again, and found only this one bird sitting on the rim of the nest. Just seconds after I snapped the picture, the second fledgling fledged!

So, Mother Hummingbird, same time next year?

10 November 2014

Man in Water

It never previously crossed my mind to blog about this subject, mostly because the subject is neither important nor compelling. But here it is. There is a man who stands in the water within view of our house almost every day, rain or shine, morning, afternoon or early evening. But because so many years have passed and he still stands there, solitary and pensive, I feel I must say something now. He stands there for hours, I exaggerate not. Hours. Sometimes at high tide, sometimes at low tide. He rarely moves. Only his clothes change from one day to the next. Who is he? Why does he stand there so immobile, and for so long? Pure mystery.

Most of the time he stands off to the left of our terrace in what appears to be his favorite spot —

But occasionally he stands off to the right of our terrace —

And once in a blue moon he stands directly in front of our house —

03 November 2014


There are two cities in Brazil that make me say This is beautiful, I could live here! every time I visit them. One of these cities is Tiradentes, up in the mountains of the State of Minas Gerais, one of the famous "historic cities" which include Ouro Preto, Congonhas and São João del Rey, among others. I think of Tiradentes as a city for mature people to live in or visit. The music pouring out of restaurants and shops is classical or jazz, which for me is a refreshing change from the generic and mediocre rock music which is the unfortunate background noise in many restaurants and shops in Búzios. There is a not-so-off-the-mark comment one hears often in Brazil, "Everything that’s good comes from Minas." Truth be told, much of our own best furniture and decorations comes from Minas, and in particular from Tiradentes.

Our beautiful guardian angel, straight from Tiradentes . . . 

. . . as are these cute couples 

Table courtesy Tiradentes

Another table courtesy Tiradentes

The other city that makes me daydream about moving is Paraty, which, like the "historic cities" in Minas, owes its frozen-in-colonial-time feel to the 18th century Brazilian Gold Rush. This shared history has left Paraty and Tiradentes with a similar look and feel, but for the fact that Tiradentes is landlocked and Paraty sits prettily on the water, conveniently located between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. So convenient, that Mark and I had to make it a stop on our way back from São Paulo recently. Paraty has an architecturally beautiful city center, prohibited to cars, and is chock full of art galleries and bookstores. Paraty’s fame has grown considerably since 2003, when it first organized FLIP (Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty), now an annual literary festival which draws authors and readers from all over the world.


First we found a pousada --

Our view

And then I ran to see the view --

And then we went to scout the restaurants --

And the galleries --

And the bookstores --

Paraty is truly frozen in time --

And on the way out of town I couldn't help but wonder -- any chance this house was on the market?