My book

Marquis 2Wow, times sure flies…it’s been a couple of years since my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks – My Adventures in Jazz, Rio, and Beyond was published. I’ve been happy with the feedback I’ve gotten, and grateful to the folks who have written reviews for Amazon: so far, 34 5-star and 2 4-star reviews.

A lot of people don’t seem to want to write reviews. I understand. I sympathize. I don’t like writing them, either. But now that I’m an independent author, I realize how important they are. They’re the life-blood of the independent author. They are the reason that people get curious about your book and might want to read it. So, If you read my book and liked it, I will love you forever if you review it for Amazon. :)

People often ask me if I’m writing another book or planning on writing one. I did actually make a couple of abortive attempts at writing some sort of sequel, but finally came to the conclusion that not enough time has gone by in my life since I wrote the first book to have anything substantial to say. What about a book on some other topic? they ask. Well, I thought about taking some of my philosophical musings from this blog and putting them into book form, but the problem is that my ideas keep changing, so I don’t want to carve them in stone and then look back in a couple of years and think, “Sheesh, that was weird…why did I ever say that?” So then they ask, “What about a novel, you know, a work of fiction?” I confess that I have never been able to write fiction. My career as a writer was in journalism, and I’ve never, ever been able to make up stories. I wish I could. I have endless admiration for people who can. Poetry? Maybe…not sure mine is “good enough,” whatever that means…Marilyn Monroe

This is not to say that I won’t write another book. My mind is open. Who knows, maybe something will pop into it that will grab me and I’ll pull out my MacBook and get busy. Meanwhile, I’m just living, working on some musical projects, and pondering life with a Capital L…

If you’d like to read my book, clock on the BOOK tab above for info about how to get it, and I’ll be looking forward to your review!

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Happy New Year—Rio style!

ReveillonfotoI’ve lived close to Copacabana beach for most of my 15+ years in Rio, and have thoroughly enjoyed the New Year’s Eve celebrations here.

Here’s my take on Reveillon—that’s New Year’s Eve here. The basic routine is fireworks over the beach, and various stages set up with musical shows along the shoreline. People come from all over by car, bus, and metro to see this spectacle—over two million of them—mostly dressed in white, and many carrying white flowers to throw in the ocean to the sea goddess Yemanjá. Some come in the afternoon to dig holes in the sand, where they place lighted candles and offerings to the goddess: flowers, food, and drink. Others carry folding beach chairs and coolers.

Offerings to the Sea Goddess Yemanjá

Offerings to the Sea Goddess Yemanjá

Somehow, even with all those people, it never feels like a mob. I’ve been right down on the beach for a few of these celebrations, and there’s room to move around and never a sense of being crushed. I’ve lived in two apartments here that had a lateral view of the beach from a short block away, so I’ve had the option of watching the fireworks from my window.

Fireworks on Copacabana beach

Fireworks on Copacabana beach

I love the way the day unfolds on December 31. Fairly early in the evening traffic is closed off and people start walking down my street toward the beach. By 11pm or so the street is filled with crowds of folks, mostly in white clothes, trying to get as close as possible to the fireworks, which are set off from a barge out in the water. I remember before the “barge days,” when the fireworks were set off right on the beach. I used to go watch the guys set them up in the sand. At first I was afraid of the idea of fireworks going off right over my head, but after I experienced it the first time, I was hooked! It was absolutely thrilling.

This year I opted for watching the fireworks out my window, so I had a good view of all the activity in my street. By 11:50pm, people were actually running toward to beach to catch the display, which was wonderful this year—no excessive smoke (and no rain!), and some stunning new fireworks shaped like flowers and rockets—it was breathtaking!

Copa fireworksBut my favorite part of the event is when it’s all over and the people start slowly moving their way down my street away from the beach and toward the public transportation and taxis. I just can’t help the affection I feel for this lovely, respectful crowd as they walk along, sometimes holding hands, or with their arms around each other. As I looked out my window last night, I saw people of all ages—babies in their daddies’ arms, toddlers in strollers, and two very elderly women in wheelchairs, as well as another older lady with a walker, who would take a step and then pause…and the two people with her stood patiently by as she prepared to take her next step.

And among these were the girls and boys, some skipping and laughing, and a quiet contingent of police officers walking along the edge of the crowd, keeping an eye out for rabble-rousers.

10898038_10153025589742446_9044071011515790889_nI turned away from the window and went back into my room, feeling happy for having witnessed another of these lovely celebrations here in Rio. When I went back to look out the window one more time at 2am, the street was still thronging with people heading home.

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The chicken and I

frango-inteiro-congelado-temperadoI write this with apologies to my vegetarian/vegan friends…I’m mostly a veggie eater myself, but I really, really wanted a roast chicken for Christmas dinner.

My history with chicken has not been good. Except for roasting a whole chicken, my chicken dishes have generally been less than appetizing. No matter what I did, the chicken would always come out rubbery. I think it may be because I tended to overcook the chicken—I’m very squeamish about undercooked animal food.

Anyway, a particular food company here in Brazil has been offering what they call “Easy” chickens, roasts, etc. They come frozen, in a plastic bag, all seasoned and ready to go. You just stick the thing in the oven, still frozen, and leave it there for two hours. Sounded good to me. But there was one little problem.

The reason I haven’t roasted a chicken in ages is because in the apartment where I currently live here in Rio, my kitchen is about the size of a small walk-in closet, so the only stove that fits is a two-burner one. This obviously means that the oven is, well, eensie-weensie. Could I fit a chicken in it? I decided to take a chance.CIMG9927

I bought the chicken. It came in a fancy bag with a handle and detailed instructions. It warned: “Don’t let the inner plastic bag touch any part of the oven or its elements.” Uh oh. OK, I put the oven rack down as far as it would go and crossed my fingers. Then there was the problem of a pan to cook it in. I had one pan, sort of dollhouse sized, which I prayed would be big enough. It wasn’t. The instructions said “breast up,” but when I tried putting it in the pan that way, its little feet stuck up in the air and it wouldn’t fit in the oven. So I turned it over, breast down, and after considerable adjusting, shifting, pushing, and shoving, it finally fit in the pan, sort of. Then I tried wrestling it into the oven. It was a tight squeeze. Too tight. The plastic bag was pressed tight against the top of the oven. *Sigh*

What to do? By this time I was getting impatient, so I ripped off most of the precious plastic bag that was supposed to help create all the yummy juices. Juices be damned! said I—I have to get this sucker into the oven!!

Once the bag was off, I was able to squeeze the bird in. It still was pressed hard against the top of the oven, but I figured it would be OK because it was bagless. Nevertheless, I was a bit nervous when I finally closed the teeny oven door and went into the other room to wait two hours.

After a while, I was comforted by delicious aromas coming from the kitchen, even though I still wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.

Exactly two hours up, I ran to the kitchen to see how birdy had fared in its miniscule prison.

I pulled it out, set it on the sink counter and thanked God—what a thing of beauty! Well, not really, it looked kind of smooshed and a bit mangled, but it smelled wonderful. I turned it over, grabbed a knife, and cut of a piece of breast. I bet it’s tough, I thought. Well, it wasn’t—it was tender and perfect! Not only that, but the bottom of the pan was full of delicious juices, even without the help of the magic bag.

Suffice it to say I had a perfect Christmas dinner! I hope yours was just as good.

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Christmas memories

1212I was thinking about how Christmas was when I was growing up. I come from a secular family, although my mother identified somewhat with the Episcopal church. We’d sometimes go to their midnight Christmas service, which I thought was very peaceful and beautiful. But Christmas for my sister Bertie and me was all about wondering what presents Ma had bought us (my Pop was in and out of the picture, mostly out), and where she had hidden them. And whether we should try to find them and peek, or would that spoil everything!

Ma loved Christmas—everything about it. The shopping, the wrapping of presents, the cooking. I can remember her clearing everyone out of our downstairs dining room on the day before Christmas so she could spread our dining room table with presents, wrapping paper, gift tags, ribbon, and tape. By this time, Bertie and I were practically quivering with anticipation.

It was our tradition to open one gift on Christmas eve, which Ma would often choose, especially if she had bought the same thing for me and Bertie. One year it was little Brownie cameras, and what a thrill that was!

When we were little and still believed in Santa Claus, we used to leave a plate of cookies and milk and sometimes a little gift for him on the sideboard in the living room. The next morning it would all be gone except the plate and glass, of course! I remember in school, when I was at the age where some kids were doubting the existence of Santa Claus (including me). There was a boy in my class who hushed everyone up by saying, “I know Santa is real, because I went up on our roof and saw the reindeer hoof prints in the snow!” We all held on to our belief after that, at least for that year.

Bertie and Amy in the snow

Bertie and Amy in the snow

Speaking of snow, Bertie and I wished every year that it would snow in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, back in those days (late 40s and 50s), it didn’t usually start snowing until January. After that it was non-stop snow, with two and three-foot drifts until the spring thaw.

When Pop was around for Christmas, we’d trudge out into the woods with him and cut down a fresh cedar tree. Once we got it into the house, it filled the room with that wonderful fragrance—if I close my eyes I can still smell it. Bertie and I would help Ma decorate the tree with ornaments we had saved over the years. Ma liked blue lights, so that’s what we usually had. Then we’d argue about whether we’d trim the tree with icicles or not. I’d fight for them, because I loved how they reflected off the lights, but Ma said they made too much mess, so we didn’t usually have them.

We grew up in Newtown, Connecticut, so since New York City wasn’t that far away, we’d often make a trip to see the Rockefeller tree and the decorations in the stores on Fifth Avenue. That was one of the most festive parts of the season.

But Christmas morning was best. Bertie and I would wake up and run into the living room in our pajamas, not bothering to get dressed or have breakfast. Then we’d all sit around and open our presents, with paper flying everywhere. There’s nothing quite as magical as a Christmas gift wrapped in pretty paper—you wonder what’s inside, you try to guess, and then you rip it open to see your surprise. Bertie and I always loved our presents, and we liked buying them for Ma, Pop, and each other, too. Sometimes we’d make hand-made gifts, which were always appreciated, even if they weren’t all that exciting…like an unevenly stitched potholder or a lopsided clay ashtray.

We didn’t think about the religious significance of Christmas, even though we sang carols about the birth of Jesus. But I like to think that the spirit of love that Jesus taught and lived visited our home anyway.

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The power of bear-love!

Joe sitting on the verandaI was given my first two teddy bears when I was an infant. I guess my mother named them Fred and Bill, or maybe I named them myself when I got older…I don’t remember. My sister Bertie also had two bears named Fred and Bill. Hers were bigger than mine, because she was the firstborn and nearly two years older. Both Freds were white and made of real sheepskin, and both Bills were furry brown cloth.

Bertie and I kept our bears throughout our lives—through all our moves, changes, traumas, victories, and disappointments. My Fred finally disintegrated in 2006, but Bertie’s remained intact. Her Bill fell apart a couple of years later.

Bertie became a bear collector. She must have had at least 100 bears in her home in Connecticut, along with another 100 other stuffed animals and dolls of all sizes and shapes. I wasn’t a collector—I made teddy bears instead. I had a little business, sewing the bears on my sturdy Viking sewing machine and selling them via mail order in shoe boxes.

About a decade ago, Bertie gave me a bear for Christmas. He was fair-furred, not too big, and could sit up by himself. He could even do a somersault (if you pushed him) and end up in a sitting position. I loved this bear from the start, more than any bear I’d ever had—even more than Fred and Bill. Bertie and I were very close, and I know she’d put a lot of love and thought into picking out this particular bear for me. I named him Joe.

I took Joe with me whenever I traveled. I was living in Brazil, and I went back to the states for a year in 2007. When I returned, I couldn’t seem to find a space in my jam-packed suitcase to squeeze Joe in. Bertie said not to worry, she’d mail him to me.Joe climbing a tree

Well, I got back home to Rio and I waited. And waited. And waited, Months went by, and no sign of Joe. After still more time had gone by I started to think Joe was lost forever. Then one day I went down to the lobby to get my mail, and there it was…a badly crushed shoebox, with Joe inside! I checked all the postal labels on the box, and apparently he had spent several months in Peru, of all places! I was so happy to have him back. I wished he could talk so he could have told me about his adventures!

Time went by and I lost contact with most of my family, except for Bertie. Then she died. I was sorry I couldn’t be there with her at the end, but we spoke on the phone nearly every day. She told me she was convinced that life doesn’t end, and she said she wasn’t afraid. She had asked to be cremated, and she insisted on taking her bear Fred with her! I guess you’d have to be a teddy bear lover to understand, but I found that to be very touching.

So there I was, living by myself, except for Joe. Sometimes I swear, as crazy as it sounds, that he seemed almost alive to me. He’d sit there on his little folding stool all day, watching me. Once in a while I’d take him with me to sit on my bed or the couch, but as time went on I found that I was ignoring him more and more. Then one day I looked at him. He was just sitting there, looking rather forlorn—and very dirty. I suddenly felt guilty. I picked him up and said, “I’m sorry Joe, I’ve been thinking too much about myself and ignoring you.” I got a brush and brushed his fur. He looked a lot cleaner. Since then I keep him close to me when I can, and often talk to him. Such a good listener, my little buddy Joe! So non-judgmental! Really, it’s great to have real live friends, and I have some very, very close ones, but a teddy bear can be a great companion, too—never underestimate the power of bear-love!

Joe playing the piano

 

Joe hanging out to dry

Joe having breakfast

 

Bear sleepover

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Blessed relief

This is a follow-up to my previous post, so if you haven’t read that one yet, here it is:

https://finallygettingdowntobrasstacks.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/where-do-i-belong/

O poeta e o mendigoI was so grateful for all the replies, both here and on Facebook, about my dilemma of whether or not I should return to the USA. Funny how things can turn around in one’s mind in a matter of days…or even hours.

I’m not usually the sort to seek out other people’s advice about decisions…I guess you could say I’m more of a pray-er. I listen for inner inspiration and guidance, as a general rule. But who’s to say that intuition can’t come through someone or something else? A casual word from a friend, a passage in a book, a remark overheard in the street, even the flight of a bird can suddenly spark something within, and then there’s no more doubt.

I’m especially grateful to two friends: Merrilee Trost and David Brown, who nudged my thinking into new directions, and wittingly or not, helped me make my decision.

Dave saw my previous blog, and simply said: “You should stay in Rio.” He pointed out that he sensed no real desire in me to move to St. Petersburg.

Merrilee also felt strongly that I should stay here. She commented on my blog: “I’ve thought many times about moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to some place where my money would go further. And then…the same thing…I see a commercial on TV with the Golden Gate Bridge…and I think…how would I feel in Kansas or Missouri looking at that commercial? And that settles it, I would shrivel up and die.”

That really hit me in the gut. I remembered when I spent a year in the states in 2007 and every time I’d see or hear anything even faintly Brazilian, I’d be absolutely overcome with that feeling that we describe here as “saudades.” It’s more than missing, more than nostalgia—it’s a tugging of the heart that’s often too profound to describe. Redentor lua

The first thing that hit me after reading and digesting all the comments was that fear of not having enough money was just a bad reason for leaving Rio…prices could go down, and there are always ways of earning more money. It was as if I were waking up…I remembered when I used to spend a month in the USA every year, and I thought…why, I could do that again! That would resolve any cravings I might have for things American, such as quality international foods, seeing old friends and family, and so on. Why had I forgotten that? I don’t know. I simply got caught up in the thought “I have to leave.”

To tell the truth, “leaving,” or “running away” is an old, bad habit of mine, and I saw that this situation was an opportunity to stop doing that (anyone who has read my book knows about my habit of fleeing to “solve” things). Whatever needs to be worked out I can do right where I am.

So now I don’t have to tuck Rio in my heart and take it with me. I have no idea what will happen in the future, but for now I’ve decided to stay in my beloved Rio de Janeiro.

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Where do I belong?

Copa sunsetI’ve been living in Rio de Janeiro for around fifteen years, with a couple of side trips back to my native country, the USA. Anyone who has read my blog knows that I love Rio…you could even say I’m “in love” with Rio.

But Rio has been changing over the past few years, in a way that may soon make it impossible for me to stay here. I’m not sure if the World Cup was entirely at fault, but prices have skyrocketed, and my rent has been raised twice in the last year or so, so it’s now more than double what it was five years ago. Food prices are out of sight now, along with just about everything else. When I first moved here, things were cheap—really cheap. Compare the $60 a month I paid for an apartment in the same building I’m living now, to the $1000+ I’m paying now for a very similar one—it’s just a little bigger, but no better. In fact, it’s old, rundown, has lousy plumbing that needs ongoing repairs, windows whose rotten wooden frames swell so you can’t open or close them, and…well, I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say, it’s not a nice apartment, even though it’s close to the beach.

So I made a decision: I would move back to the USA. Even though I’m a New Yorker at heart, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand those long, freezing winters, so I picked Florida as a good spot. St. Petersburg, to be exact, because it has reasonably priced rentals, seems like a pleasant place, has a warm climate, and I have a few friends there and some family not too far away. I felt fine with my decision—at first. I admit I was a little sad over leaving Rio, but I quickly got over it and moved on, or so I thought.

I started making plans, throwing stuff away (my goal was to reduce several years of stuff to squeeze into one large suitcase), and checking out St. Pete rental websites. This isn’t the first time I’ve scaled down to make an international move, but this time it seemed a bit overwhelming, so I decided to take my time.

Then one night a while later, as I was watching some Brazilian music videos on YouTube (one of them featured the trumpeter who played in my band and recorded on my CD), I burst into tears and couldn’t stop sobbing. I surprised myself, because I hadn’t realized how deeply I was feeling about this move.

After I calmed down to a sniffle, I decided to assess the situation. When you live in a foreign country for a long time, especially when you speak the language of that country most of the time and are deeply involved in its culture, it’s not so easy just to uproot yourself and go “home.” What is “home?” That’s the question I asked myself. And I realized that the answer had more to do with a state of mind than with a physical place. I knew that going back to the USA would be a culture shock—I had spent a year there in 2007 and had had a very difficult time. But then again, living here in Rio, there are things about the states that I miss, too. I knew I wasn’t a Brazilian, but I didn’t feel like an American either. I felt like a cultural schizophrenic.

I still feel that it’s probably right for me to go, but now I understand why I wanted to take my time. It’s not so much because of the sorting, selling, packing, and so on—it’s weaning myself away from a place I love and will always love. I figure the only solution is just to tuck it away in my heart and soul and take it with me.

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