Category Archives: special days

WHY HAVE CARNIVAL?

 

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: http://goo.gl/OfdMd7

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.

carnaval1

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!

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

Sweet Solitary Christmas

I’ve spent Christmas alone for years, so a few years ago I decided to write a poem about it. I shared it on Facebook today and people seemed to find comfort in it. Many shared it with their friends, so I decided to share it on my blog as well.

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It’s the night before Christmas
And I’m all alone,
No tree and no presents
No calls on the phone.
No stockings are hung,
There’s no candle flame,
And Santa Claus doesn’t
Remember my name.
Long gone are the days
Of family fun
Now there’s just me
By myself, just one.
But please don’t feel sad
I’m really quite fine,
In fact I’m so glad
That Christmas is mine.
I’ve got my dear angels
Who speak in my ear
In tones oh so tender
With love oh so near.
They tell me of Jesus
And his awesome love,
His goodness, his healing,
Around and above.
Christmas is coming,
A new birth for me,
With joy and abundance—
I’m happy and free!

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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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This ‘n that…

Since my book, “Getting Down to Brass Tacks,” was published, I haven’t written here as often as I’d like to. Boy, promoting your own book takes lots of time!

As those of you know who keep up with me here, I have put both the paperback and Kindle versions of my book on sale at Amazon. However, the prices will go back to normal soon, probably by the end of this month, so if you want a discount copy, better hurry up!

Here’s the link:

http://goo.gl/tidOY

Also, if you’ve read or are planning on reading the Kindle/e-book version, there is a link to the photos that go with the book in the Appendix at the end. Here’s the link if you want to see them now!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/amy-pix/

My grandson Bobby (alias Mr. Bumpus) is included in the photos. He’s grown a lot since then! Here’s a pic of him at his first birthday party: Bobby eating cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is it really the “end” this time?

There’s a lot of buzz around about December 21. The end of the Mayan calendar. The end of the world, some say.

Of course there have been lots and lots of other predictions of the so-called “end of the world” and I’ve laughed them off, as most of us have. But this one seems to have a different tone, if I can put it that way. Instead of people talking about the earth burning up or being destroyed (although some are doing that), there’s more and more talk about that date being a time of transition—a transition into a higher consciousness, which will consequently create a better world. Could this be true?

I’ve been around long enough to have seen radical changes in the world. I grew up in the USA in the 1940s and 50s, and there’s no question that those years were very different from the 60s. Then the 70s, 80s and 90s brought further change, some of it drastic, some more subtle. But now that we’re in the 21st century, a lot of us have noticed that things seem to be moving much faster than they did in earlier decades. The speed in technological development alone is pretty mind-blowing.12

Also, when I was a kid I don’t remember anyone (although I’m sure there were some isolated cases) worrying about where the trash would go when we ran out of places to put it. There was never a thought about avoiding eating animals, for the most part. People just didn’t concern themselves with these things. Life was limited to their own little milieu—their family, their jobs. People would read the newspapers, but there was very limited awareness that we were all part of a global family. We had our own little lives, and that was it. There was hardly any “consciousness raising” going on.

Nowadays there seems to be a mad dash toward things spiritual—people aren’t satisfied any more with “I was born, I lived, I died.” In rapidly increasing numbers, they want to understand why they are here, what is this life all about…what’s the point? The internet is overrun with “spiritual coaches” seeking to help people gain some sense of who they are in the overall scheme of things. Many people are opting to be “spiritual” rather than “religious.”

What’s going on?

Well, first of all, loads of folks are finally discovering that materialism doesn’t satisfy. It did for a while, but now it doesn’t. They’re also finding out that believing that all there is to us is a physical body moving among other physical bodies—some who are seemingly very close to us, such as family—isn’t enough. People betray us, leave us, or they die. Sooner or later such things will happen to us, even though we may have lived for years having been spared, for the most part, from such events.

When our lives no longer satisfy, when we find ourselves in an upheaval that we can’t resolve—whether with our work, our relationships, our health or a combination of things—then it’s time to become aware that we are being coaxed out of what we thought was all there was to us, and to start looking at the broader picture. What we really want is to find something real, something we can depend on, something that will make and keep us happy and harmonious.

So what about December 21? Some, who have observed the speeding up of our consciousness here on earth over many years are saying that that date is a turning point when things will speed up more, even dramatically. Maybe this explains why people are so madly searching for the truth. What do you think?

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