Category Archives: Rio de Janeiro



This is the question some of my Brazilian Facebook friends are asking this year—a year where we’re in the throes of a serious recession and feeling the effects of a government drowning in corruption. I think it’s a valid question, but a complicated one. It doesn’t have a simple answer, such as: “We should cancel Carnival and spend the money on schools and hospitals.”Carnaval Cancelado no Ceará

But that’s exactly the answer I’ve been seeing in a lot of the memes my friends (and friends of friends) are posting. I get it. They’re fed up with the inadequate services Brazil provides for its citizens (not to mention infrastructure, transportation, and so many other things), and they think Carnival is a waste of money. The truth is, a lot of Brazilians have never liked Carnival, even when things were looking rosier for the country. They get out of the city as fast as they can to spend the week in some quiet resort. I would venture to say that these are pretty much the same people who are posting negative memes about Carnival on Facebook.

OK, I’m a gringa expat…what do I know? Well, quite a bit, as it happens. I’ve been living in Rio for around 18 years, and quite a few of them were involved with Carnival and the samba culture. You can read about my experiences in my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks, here:

Cassiano, me, ?

My two samba pals and me

I played drums in the samba school parades for 7 or 8 years, and came away with a clear sense of why Carnival is so important to many Brazilians—not to mention thousands of tourists from around the world—and why it should NOT be canceled—ever.

First of all, Brazilian Carnival is one of the most amazing events anywhere in the world—so much so that it has been attracting tourists for decades. But even more important, Carnival is an event that many Brazilians look forward to every year. It’s a wonderful vacation from the tedium of day-to-day living, and thousands of people from all walks of life are either spectators or take part in the parades. These parades range from the larger-than-life spectacle at the Sambodrome (in Rio) to the smaller groups (blocos) that parade in various neighborhoods all over the city. If you can’t afford to buy a costume and parade in the Sambodrome with the big groups, you can either go out with one of the smaller schools or blocos, or if you’ve got rhythm and the time and dedication to go to the rehearsals, you can play in the bateria and get a costume for free.

Uniao da Ilha rehearsal1

Getting ready for rehearsal

For many, this is the time to live a dream, a fantasy, to be someone you can’t be in your everyday life. It’s art, culture, music, theater, dance—all wrapped up in one—and so much more.

It also provides jobs. People work for months in the big warehouses (barracões) for months to create the floats and figures that are the focal point of the parades. These are artisans, artists, carpenters, and others without specific skills, who make it possible for Carnival to happen every year—without them, there would be no Carnival.


Working in the barracão

So what about the schools and hospitals? Would it be better to cut out Carnival and put more money into building more and better schools and hospitals? No, this isn’t where the money should come from. True, Carnival could be scaled down a bit (some samba groups are already recycling materials from previous years), but the funds for public services and institutions could easily come from all the money that is wasted by the corrupt government here.

What would life look like without art, music, theater, and other forms of culture? Would it really be worth living? Carnival is joy, inspiration—a health-giving activity for so many. I’ve seen up close the happiness and inspiration in the faces of so many of my samba school friends here, that I can’t help thinking: If Carnival is canceled, Brazil had better build more hospitals, because there will be a lot more people needing them!

Salve o Carnaval!

Amy, Dave Brown

Yes, that’s me!


Filed under Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, special days, Uncategorized


At the ripe old age of 73, I have finally discovered what’s wrong with me.

Or rather what’s right with me that I always thought was wrong. I’m an HSP, otherwise known as Highly Sensitive Person, or Sensitive/Empath. This means I’m part of around 20% of the population that is more sensitive than most people to, among other things, loud noises, bright or fluorescent lights, and strong smells. HSPs are also highly intuitive and sensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings. These traits often make it harder for people to navigate their way through life, especially if they’re not even aware that they’re a HSP—like me.South-Atlantic Transitional Dairy Cow Blend

HSP children can have all kinds of fears that other kids don’t seem to have, and are often shy. I was that kind of kid, and I certainly didn’t get any support or sympathy from my family, but there was one person—a childhood friend—who kept me from completely losing myself in fear and isolation: Darcy Halstead.

Darcy and I grew up in Newtown, CT, in the country, and we were driven to school by Mr. Violet in his station wagon—there weren’t enough kids in our neighborhood for a real school bus. Darcy was my age and in the same class, and because we rode to school together, we got to be friends, even though we had practically nothing in common.

Darcy was a scrawny blonde kid with buck teeth who, it seemed to me, was afraid of nothing. I was in wonder at the way she stood up to her mother, who was constantly slapping her around. When she got spanked, she would just laugh—to me this was incomprehensible! My mother’s spankings left me with scars that I endure to this day, so I guess I hoped some of Darcy’s bravery and nonchalance would rub off on me.



Well, I didn’t become as feisty as Darcy, but being around her did make me try new things and take chances that I otherwise never would have taken. I enjoyed her company so much that when I was only around nine years old I used to walk the two miles to her house just so we could play together. Once she took me to play in a cow pasture. I’d never been near a cow in my life, and I was terrified, but Darcy kept egging me on, and when I stepped in a “cow pie” and she roared with laughter, I couldn’t help laughing, too. I even gingerly touched one of the cows!

Darcy also brought out the “naughty” in me, which was a quality I rarely dared exhibit at home. There was a little cemetery right next door to her house, and one of our favorite pastimes was to knock over the headstones. Bad, I know, but it did me good.

Darcy lived with her mom Edna, her older sister Mickey, and her grandma and grandpa. Edna was always wired, and it seemed to me that she lived on coffee and cigarettes—maybe that’s why she was so jumpy and always smacking Darcy. I was afraid of her grandpa. He was in a wheelchair and couldn’t speak and his face looked funny. Darcy would say to me, “Don’t be scared! You can talk to him. He can hear you and he likes it!” But I was too petrified to open my mouth.glenwood

So I wasn’t able to overcome all my HSP tendencies by being Darcy’s friend, but she did help me come out of my shell, and I’m grateful for that. In any case, there’s no way for a HSP to turn into a not-HSP, and that’s all right. I’m gradually learning to live with and enjoy the positive qualities of my HSP-ism. The big breakthrough for me was finally discovering the truth about myself, instead of wondering what was wrong with me! That’s a biggie.


Filed under individuality, my history, Rio de Janeiro

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.


Filed under Rio de Janeiro, special days

Blessed relief

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

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.


Filed under expats, Rio de Janeiro, Uncategorized

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.


Filed under expats, Rio de Janeiro

Brazil, the world…and us

As everyone knows by now, Brazil, “the sleeping giant,” is in a state of popular revolt. Surely this revolt has been simmering for a long time, and like a faulty pressure cooker, has finally exploded.

It seemed to have started with an increase in public transportation fares, but really that was just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Once public frustration about the fares started to push the escape valve, the whole thing blew up quickly and powerfully.

Downtown Rio

Downtown Rio

The streets of many of Brazil’s major cities are packed with demonstrators—most of them orderly, with the exception of a few vandals. The word on the street is that some of these vandals are being paid in order to shed a bad light on the protestors. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but what I do know is that the Brazilian population overall has had it up to “here” with political corruption, poor health care, faulty education, and now the excessive spending to host the World Cup—for which Brazil is ill-prepared. Many people feel that since the country is in a state of transition, it just isn’t ready to tackle an event of this size.

Facebook is loaded with photos of huge crowds filling the downtown areas of major cities like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife. Everyone has an opinion, but overall there seems to be a strong sense of solidarity—the time has come, we’re ready, this is IT.

Well, I’ve been watching all of this activity in the news and the social media, and I think what’s going on in Brazil reveals to a great extent what’s going on in the rest of the world. There’s nothing unique about it. After all, what is the source of global problems? When you get right down to it, it’s human selfishness, lack of compassion, egotism, greed, fanaticism, fear, and so on. These are the same traits responsible for global warming, famine, and everything else that’s wrong in the world. Where do these things start? With individual human beings, in their thinking. And thinking leads to actions.

So in all fairness, I can’t help but ask myself: Am I contributing to any of these problems with my own thinking and/or behavior? Am I? Are we?


Filed under Rio de Janeiro, social media, Uncategorized

Prayers for Josimar

I was coming home to Rio de Janeiro after spending a trying, difficult year in the US. I was ill, tired, and disappointed, but happy to be going home.

It was a long flight from Boston—around twelve hours, with a stop in Washington D.C. The overnight flight from D.C. to Rio was around nine hours, so I was very happy to find three empty seats in a row so I could lie down (sort of) and try to rest. It wasn’t restful, and the hours dragged by endlessly, but it was better than sitting up all night.

When I roused myself for breakfast in the morning, my first thought was, “How will I make it through customs?” I was worn out and could barely stand up to go to the bathroom. Plus it was a long, long walk to customs after leaving the plane and I knew I’d never make it. I was feeling a bit rattled, and wondered how I’d bear up if the officer made me open my bags. If I made it to the customs area, that is.

But I had no choice but to drag myself up out of my seat, pull down my carry-on, and slowly walk down the aisle behind the other passengers.wheelchair460_1581784c

As I was exiting the plane, I looked up and my gaze was met by a slender middle-aged man with glasses standing next to a folded wheelchair. He smiled kindly at me and I said, “Could you…?” Yes, he could. I had never even thought of a wheelchair! I’d never used one before in an airport or anywhere else. I thought you had to be really incapacitated before you could use one.

He settled me in the chair with my carryon on my lap and then pushed me and dragged my suitcase so fast I felt like we were flying. We zigzagged between all the people walking towards customs, leaving them in the dust. Before I could catch my breath we had stopped in front of the customs officer, who actually looked quite pleasant, sitting at his table. He asked me if I had bought anything in the USA. I said “no,” and that was it. I was home free!

My sweet chair-driver guided me out to the exit area where I saw my friend Dulce and her favorite taxi driver waiting for me. There were warm greetings all around. I turned to my angel driver and said, “What’s your name?” “Josimar,” he replied. Then I started chatting with my friend, and in my excitement and relief to be home, forgot all about Josimar and that he was probably waiting for a tip. I just kept jabbering away, and the next I knew, he was gone.

To be honest, I really didn’t remember the tip until I was installed in my temporary apartment in Copacabana, and then I felt so bad—I actually felt pain and remorse. After all, Josimar was my guardian angel. He had rescued me from an impossible situation, and I had forgotten to tip him!

Believe it or not, I thought about this for months, and even a year or two later it would occasionally pop into my mind. I thought, “I should have tried to find him. I should have called the airport. Why didn’t I call the airport?”

Why such a fuss over a forgotten tip? I don’t know—there was just something about Josimar.

I’m sure he has long since forgotten the incident, but I never have. And I often include him in my prayers in a whisper of gratitude.


Filed under my history, Rio de Janeiro, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under music, Rio de Janeiro

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.


Filed under Rio de Janeiro

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?


Filed under Rio de Janeiro