Monthly Archives: March 2013

“Did you really meet Marilyn Monroe?”


OK, so in the past few days several people have asked me if I really met Marilyn Monroe.

The answer is yes! I met her when I was a teenager back in Newtown, CT (yes, that Newtown) in the 1950s. The way it happened was funny, embarrassing, and a total surprise.

If you want more (tease, tease), I tell all about it in my book:

Now with twenty 5-star reviews!






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Brazil, Rio, and music

OK, so what else do I love about Rio?

The first time I came here was in 1990. I was a journalist at the time, and my writing assignment was to cover Rio’s famous Carnival and do some interviews with Brazilian musicians.Tom+Jobim++Dorival+Caymmi+tom++jobim+2

Even though I had already lived in Brazil for two years back in the late 60s, at that time I was in Porto Alegre and Curitiba, two cities with a European style and influence. They were nice, but I didn’t really feel at home until I spent some time in Rio, where the influences are more African than European. Why is that? Mostly because of the music, samba in particular, and the people who play this music. I almost always found a feeling of real camaraderie and mutual respect among the musicians, rather than a strong sense of competition, and I liked that.0817564

There was nothing I enjoyed more than hanging out in a bar or restaurant where people would sit around a long table, singing and playing. Everyone knew the words to the songs, and there was such a feeling of joy and community…like a family.

In the USA, music is generally thought of as a performance, where some people play and/or sing on a stage and others sit in the audience and listen. Although we have shows and concerts here, too, we also have spontaneous musical “happenings,” which I found to be rare when I lived in the states. Here, even birthday parties usually end up with everyone spontaneously breaking into song, and it’s not unusual for a mini-batucada (percussion) group to warm things up on a public bus.images

Aside from these popular get-togethers, Brazil is famous for its groundbreaking musical geniuses—people like Dorival Caymmi, Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Hermeto Pascoal and many, many others. I’ve always loved Brazilian music, and am happy to find myself here where I’m surrounded by it. Of course there’s junky music, too, but nothing will ever override the wonderful musical heritage created by these outstanding Brazilian composers and musicians.

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Rio – why I couldn’t want more

In my last post, after talking about all the mildew and rust in Rio de Janeiro, I wrote: “And best of all, I’m in Rio de Janeiro—what more could I ask for?” Well, a bit more than mildew and rust, I guess!

One of the commenters wrote this: “This post left me wanting more…why you couldn’t want more for instance. People who are new to your posts/book/blogs won’t know why you love Rio so much.”

Good point. So I thought I’d start out by answering this question with a passage from my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks – My adventures in the world of jazz, Rio and beyond.

One thing I had to get used to when I first moved here was the carioca [Rio native] conception of time. Time in Rio is not time as I had been accustomed to it all my life. You can’t pin it down here. It floats. It sashays. “Come by my place tonight—the party starts at 8 p.m.” 10 p.m., 10:30 p.m., people start to show up. Or you’re on your way to meet someone and you run into a guy you know on the way. So you stop and have a beer with him. Then someone else crosses your path, and you get into a long, involved conversation. Eventually you end up at your destination—maybe. This nonchalant relationship with time can be frustrating for a punctual, organized New Yorker, but I’ve found that over the years it has actually had a calming effect on me. I’ve learned to roll with it and work around it, like everyone else does here. And then there’s the beach, of course. The beach right in the city, where you can go any time you want, stroll along the water’s edge and enjoy a view of Sugar Loaf mountain and surfers during the day, and friends sipping coconut water at the kiosks under the moonlight at night. You feel at home. You look around and see that’s it’s not just eye-popping young women in bikinis on the beach. It’s also old, fat, skinny, black, brown, tan, white, men, women, kids—people of every age, size and shape, most of them in bikinis, including the men. You relax. You already feel less self-conscious about your thighs. You watch the teenage girls and young mothers step down to the water, but rarely go all the way in. They carry a plastic container that they dip into the ocean and pour over their heads. Then they go back and sit under their beach umbrellas. The younger men sit right on the sand, or play paddle ball. Or they surf.Copacabana-Beach-Resort

Sun-darkened men, boys and women parade up and down the beach selling things—suntan lotion, hats, sunglasses, bikinis, pieces of pineapple, popsicles, water, beer and soda, sandwiches and airy manioc biscuits (called biscoitos de vento—wind biscuits) that cariocas adore—they’re a must at the beach. The vendors never give you the hard sell unless you’re obviously a tourist. Usually they just call out whatever it is they’re selling and you gesture them over if you want something.

You head back home. The streets are lined with lush green trees. People stand at little bars sipping cafezinho (demitasse cups of very strong coffee) or drinking beer. Some of the men are wearing only their Speedo-style briefs, and the women miniscule bikinis with a sarong around the hips. There is chatter and laughter all around. Rio is warm, warm, and just oozes love and joy. The air of Rio is a like a caress, and there’s almost always a gentle breeze blowing, even on the hottest days…

OK, that’s just a taste…more to come.

The paperback and Kindle versions of Getting Down to Brass Tacks are available on Amazon, and the e-book is also available at iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, and various other online e-book stores.


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Living with mildew and rust

When I moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1991 I didn’t know about the mildew and rust. I moved to a tiny apartment very close to the beach. It was quite humid, especially with the maresia (sea spray) in the air.

Now keep in mind that I’m no stranger to mildew and rust. I grew up in a house in Connecticut that was built into the side of a hill, and our downstairs was like a damp cave. But I’d never seen the likes of what I saw when I moved to Rio.

The first thing I learned was not to buy anything made of metal unless it was aluminum or stainless steel. Everything else disintegrated into a pile of rust in a very short time, unless it was small enough to store in a well-sealed plastic bag. I discovered that washcloths mildewed (maybe that’s why Brazilians don’t use them), and the cellulose sponges that I’d brought from the USA, too. Sponges here are those frustrating plastic ones that really don’t absorb anything, so I took to using rags (which also mildewed).images

The real shocker was when I opened my closet to take out my winter clothes and discovered everything covered with mildew! I had to wash every item thoroughly, and then I bought a bunch of those little anti-mildew thingies and put them inside the closet.

But as time went on, I started to adjust. I discovered that if I left the closet doors open a crack, there would be no mildew. I bought anti-mildew towels. Metal lamps were replaced with plastic or wooden ones.

Sound like a pain? Well, yes, but there are compensations. First of all, the beach is close enough so that the wonderful ocean smell drifts in my windows. And the damp air is great for my skin. And best of all, I’m in Rio de Janeiro—what more could I ask for?


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