Monday, December 15, 2014

Home again. No, the other one - São Paulo

So, here I am in São Paulo again. We arrived yesterday for a three-week visit--and I have to tell you that it's like we never left. Our house is still here (not sold yet) with skeleton furniture but a fully-stocked kitchen. The planes still start flying overhead on their way into the local airport at 6 am. The mosquitos still hunt us down in various corners of the house. I can hear the birds chattering and it feels like home. The other one.

Yesterday we arrived at the new terminal (okay it's 6 months old now) at Guarulhos airport. It's really nice. It's so first world. And we got our luggage and got out into the terminal sweating like piggies as it is summer here and we are dressed for Boston. And then we went to one of my favorite restaurants in the world named Frangó and ate coxinhas (fried chicken yummies) and drank beer (not the kids--they had some of Brazil's unparalleled fresh juice) and sat outside. 

My husband's ancient bulletproof Volvo was our ride. It makes me laugh, this car. In car years it's not that old--it's a 2008. In bulletproof car years, it's on double overtime. The tinted windows are peeling, it groans at the extra weight and one of my sons kept repeating "I thought the car seats were brown", almost crying with the certainty that he was being tricked by us and we'd switched cars.  I am not looking forward to driving the monster truck again--it is really too big for many of São Paulo's streets. Taxi!

And last night we got together with some of our friends who hosted a pizza evening in our honor. It is one of my favorite São Paulo traditions, the Sunday night 'pizzalhada". It was so fun to catch up--the kids seem to have all grown 5 inches since we left, and everyone has new challenges and plans. Yet it's like we never left. The best part of being an expatriate is the friends who are still there when you go back. 

So I'm looking forward to a crazy five days in São Paulo trying to catch up with all the friends I can--not only mine but my kids' friends too. Then we're off to my favorite beach in the world on Thursday for a week or so. I fully expect that has not changed a bit either. 

So far, so good.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Nor'Easters - Weston, MA

How my kids envision a "nor'easter"
I spent a year in Brazil writing daily blogs about everyday life there. I found a lot of humor in daily contacts and in circumstantial occurrences as well as the underlying culture of the place. It was the type of blog that can only be written when you are relatively new to a place because things strike you as strange, or funny, or sad, or wonderful or all of the above. It was focused on São Paulo state because that is where I lived--though it is called Brazil in My Eyes, it was really My Little Corner of São Paulo in My Eyes. 

The idea of this blog was bringing new eyes to the place where I grew up and lived for the first 21 years of my life--New England.  I can't count my five years in California or two in Illinois or six in Miami because as I'm sure most of you realize, this country is so completely different from one end to the other, west/east/north/south. Don't get my started on Californians. Or Texans. One day I'm going to go spend some time in Texas and get a blog going on all the Don't Tread on Me stuff. And fried butter. Fascinating stuff. 

Things that have amused the heck out of me so far: the endless fundraising (seriously I must get a flyer a week to donate money, teddy bears, toys, my time, etc), the Bostonian accent (yeah, this is JAH-vis (Jarvis) Appliance--we've got yer "PAAAHT (part)", the soccer mom culture (I've got 6800 miles on my four month old car from driving to activities) and the school bus stop which is my favorite social time every day. I hate when the bus is early. 

One of the recent amusements has been the "nor'easter". Now, please note that I am amused by this only because we have yet to face a serious storm here. I note that wikipedia says that we had a "Halloween 2014 nor'easter" and I recall that as flurries here in Weston. We went out in snow boots and ski jackets and the neighbors laughed at the tropical folk. 

The reason to be amused by the "nor'easter" is because of the absolute joy the use of this word brings to media folk. If you have any journalist friends, whisper it in their ears and watch them light up. A nor'easter is (summarizing 1500 words of wikipedia) a badass storm. Not a hurricane which loves warm oceans and winds, but a storm that loves the cold. A Canadian storm.  No, just kidding though I do note that wikipedia blames Nova Scotia in general.  If you want the technical definition, have at wikipedia: "A nor'easter is formed in a strong extratropical cyclone, usually experiencing bombogenesis." (source here). Sounds cool, right?

Holy crap--look what Canada did! Nor'easter March 2013. From wikipedia
Well, it's not cool. Yesterday it brought all day rain. All day. Which was a good thing in the end because early in the morning we had some snowy ice that was completely hard core. My 11-year old labrador from Brazil had no idea what it was, ran out the kitchen door, skidded on the stoop, sledded on her stomach down three steps, and wound up in a huge heap by the concrete garden rabbit. No permanent injuries but a sadly bewildered face. I skipped kung fu fit due to serious fear of driving in the yuck.

What's funny to me is I don't remember the term being used when I grew up in Connecticut. We had bad storms yes, but the media (okay, then relegated to a box called a TV--no personal computers or internet then, kiddies) didn't froth themselves up repeating the word every five minutes. 

I am in fact so completely opposed to the overuse of the word now that I am considering taking up the cause of Edgar Comee who according to Wikipedia 

"waged a determined battle against use of the term "nor'easter" by the press which usage he considered "a pretentious and altogether lamentable affectation" and "the odious, even loathsome, practice of landlubbers who would be seen as salty as the sea itself". (source here). 

Apparently Mr. Comee send hundreds of postcards and spent most of his life railing against the term. According to wikipedia, he was profiled in the New Yorker for that battle. I like him. Well, he's dead now, but I mean posthumously. 

All this frothing about storms reminds me of living in Miami for six years. Lordy, that town's media love a hurricane. I learned so much stuff about when a storm is in the box, out of the box, dirty side, clean side, which category was which speed and if my roof had grippers on it to keep it from flying off (it did). I can still see a number of the local news journalists almost bouncing from the excitement of impending doom.

All joking aside though, a nor'easter took down two huge pines in the backyard here two years ago--my backyard has a major hole where those majestic 35-foot trees grew. The former owner told me about it and losing power for 10 days. Which is why I have figured out how to light the fire in the four fireplaces and know which of my neighbors have generators so I can go hang out over there. 

Now I know better to challenge Mother Nature (what could possibly go wrong, indeed), so I'm just going to keep the fingers crossed that these badass storms could just buzz off this year. I can only handle so much welcome back to New England and fighting with the leaf care guys is exhausting enough.  Makes me want a snowblower. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

I Don't Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello - Ossining, New York

Ossining house and its screen door is open. Come on in!

One of the main reasons I wanted to move back to the US and specifically the northeastern part of the US was because I wanted to be closer to friends and family. While my parents live in Chicago, I grew up in Westchester County, New York and over the border in Fairfield County, CT. And I largely grew up as a member of two families--my own and that of the Hudsons (names changed for privacy purposes).

The Hudsons became friends with my parents as newcomers in the town of Somers--I was only four or so, my brother five, and their three kids ranged from 2 to 9. The parents played tennis together, drank wine together, hiked most of the peaks of the Hudson river valley together and stayed close even as my family moved to Connecticut, and they moved to Ossining, New York.

When the Hudsons bought their home in 1976, it was a dilapidated 11-acre estate with overgrown gardens, an abandoned pool and a decrepit house (a circa 1600 farmhouse!) and outbuildings. In typical Hudson style, they called in their friends to help. Because when I think of this family, I think of all the people who swirl in their orbit--they have friends literally everywhere. There is no other family that I can think of that so obviously understands the word inclusion. All were welcome: the international students and scientists, the wacky, the poor, the rich, the rescue dogs, us, whoever. Well, minus the deer that ate their magnificent gardens--Rob would sit up in trees and shoot them with bow and arrow. At one point he even had a trip-wired security light that would shine in his face and wake him up if a deer came by.  Before all the Bambi-lovers get crazy, this was not sport-hunting--Rob would use or give away every last bit of venison. 

After that first work party in 1976, the Hudsons held a summer party every year until about five years ago when the house went up for sale.  Two weddings were held there--one the ceremony in the garden, one with giant tents on the lawn where we danced the night away. I got ready to be a bridesmaid for Julie's wedding there. I can hear the screen door slapping as we walked in the mud room door, around the corner to the giant round kitchen table where Rob would be sitting reading a paper and drinking a coffee and Gretel would already be mid-rise to ask if we were hungry or would we like some tea.

And then suddenly we were grown up. Rob and Gretel were tired of taking care of the house--something was almost always breaking and they moved part-year to Naples Florida while selling the house. For the years that the house was for sale, we still came back to visit--all three of the Hudson kids and myself and all of our kids and spouses and friends. 

One of many lazy pool days
The pool was an ongoing scene always--Julie and I grew up bouncing off the diving board, putting on swim shows on innertubes, singing out of tune, saving frogs lost from the pond next door, and freezing our butts off in that unheated water. The pool itself was the Waterloo of Rob who could really fix anything--keeping it painted, leakless and repaired took much of the spring every year. I have countless photos of one person or another in the bottom of the pool cleaning the murky waters or painting it white some years, light blue or royal blue others. And the year of the titanium oxide pool water mix--sparkling clear one day, neon green the next. How I loved that pool.

Over the years, various changes to the property were preparing us to lose the childhood home. First one giant tree that held the hammock died, then the other. The pool garden grew over with grass. The bath house collapsed in a pile of rotted wood and was slowly carted away. The things that never changed--the magnificent gardens. The friendly faces. The kitchen table and chairs and its occupants. 

Then finally, a month ago, a buyer appeared. We don't know much about this buyer and what are his plans for the house. It is such an old house that needs constant care that it would be more cost efficient to crush it. I don't know how Rob and son Dan cared for it themselves all these years. The 11-acres and its outbuildings are all in question--what next? But we can do nothing about those plans. Instead, it was time to move out the forty years of stuff.

The three Hudson kids have been helping with move out for some time. Deciding what should be given away, moved to Florida, sold or moved to one of their houses. They've done an incredible job helping their parents and frankly just keeping it together. I admit that I was less than helpful myself during these days around Thanksgiving. I couldn't stop wandering the halls and rooms with their many memories--and I was never technically a resident of the house. But it was, of course, my childhood too.

The pool iced in.

A last swing on the backyard swing.

The site of one wedding

The things you can take with you: I took the office rug, some paintings, a couple of lamps. The recipes taped up inside the kitchen cabinet.

Recipes in the cabinet

The things I couldn't: the warm smells of wood and the outdoors which came in the uninsulated old windows, the creak of the old staircase, the view out the windows. Rob sitting at the kitchen table. Gretel offering me food (okay, if I visit her in Naples she will continue to offer me food). My friends and family gathered around the glass living room table talking about nothing and everything. The winter white snow covering the hillsides and hanging off the trees.

View out bedroom window

Making the giant snowball

On one of the last days, my twins and Charles, Julie's youngest child (age 9) played in the wonderful wet snow. They rolled huge snow balls into the pool. Charles fell in, floated to the side on an icy snowball and ran up to the house. As I opened the door to let him in, and he asked me for a towel, I flashed back to the millions of times that we had done the same (but in the summer, hello!)--"mom, can I have a towel?" His mom Julie was the first in the pool forty years ago. Charles was the last in the pool last week. Full circle? I guess so. I only wish we had had one more summer around that pool--I guess I expected it to always be here when I was ready for it. I say hello...but it's time to say goodbye.

Thanks for the memories: I carry you in my heart.