Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The tree again

The last two days I've awakened very early, around 5.  In the summer, it is light at that time or just getting there.  So, I have taken the newspaper that arrives around that time, brewed some of the Brazilian coffee I purchased on the other side of the Equator, and taken my cup out to the deck to read the paper and enjoy the morning view.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that my favorite tree in the yard was felled by a loud storm on July 3rd.  This is the tree that kept its leaves the longest and had an atypical green/yellow color.  So it was sad to see it go.

When I was gone in Brazil, the fellow who takes care of the lawn and shrubs came by and, by prior arrangement, sawed off and removed the branches of this favorite tree that had been affected by the storm.  I noticed something on Monday when I sat on the deck for the first time since the dead limbs had been removed.  While I missed the tree, the view that the absence provided was itself beautiful particularly as the sun climbed into the sky.  I could see right up the hill into the woods in a way that I could not before. The light from the rising sun was creating different looks in the forest moment by moment. The scene felt like I was living in a wooded park more than it had previously.  Almost as if I had awakened and climbed out of a pitched tent.

This morning I kept saying take a picture now, but then telling myself to wait a moment--because every second the sun was providing varied views.  I eventually took a number of shots and when I download them I will place one or more here.

I guess the point is that sometimes we can get blue because of loss, but then you get to realize that something else can open up. And the sun shines into it.

Not everything is related to sports, but this is a good message to relay to any competitor. The sun will rise again after a loss.  You lose a tree, but who knows what that will allow you to see and do.

The Burgess Boys--Review

Elizabeth Strout's newest novel is called The Burgess Boys. It is worth wondering why it is titled so, because the book is about three siblings, the Burgesses--a successful New York lawyer Jim,  a less successful but amiable New York lawyer Bob, and Bob's twin sister Susan who has remained in the small Maine town where the three grew up.

The plot line centers on a foolish act perpetrated by Susan's son, Zach.  The brothers are called on to help out Zach. They travel to Maine and otherwise occupy themselves with Zach's legal case.

But the events with Zach are peripheral to the essential story which relates to the relationships the three siblings have with each other, and with their spouses.  And the demons they wrestle with.

Jim is puffed up, famous because of a victory in an OJ Simpson like case.  He is full of himself and his relationship with his wife Helen seems to be a good one.  Bob, on the other hand, is a modest sweetheart but a boozer and smoker who misses his ex wife Pam. Susan's marriage disintegrated and she feels that Zach's asocial behavior is a reflection of some failure.

And then there is a family event and secret that creates less than terra firma for the three of them. The land shifts seismically during the novel with some predictable results.

This is not as good as Strout's Olive Kitteridge, but still an engaging read.  The Bob character will stay with me for a spell.  What happens to Jim is predictable, but at the end I found myself disappointed that the author did not tie up the knot there.  Susan and Zach I suspect will be Susan and Zach with slight changes ten years from now.

So all families and all of us have issues.  Those who stay the course and ride out the turbulence honestly may be those who, in the final analysis, have the most enjoyable ride.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Airport Suggestion

My trip to Brazil is nearly over. I sit in the International terminal having arrived in plenty of time for my flight.  Took a cab from the hotel for a stunning fifty Reals/(about 25 dollars)  less than the price that the crook from the airport charged me when I first arrived and traveled the same route to the hotel.  However, I should comment that the first car was not a clunker.  I saw something in today's cab that I have never seen before. When the driver opened the trunk for my bags, I noticed that the gas tank was actually in the trunk.  Not concealed in any way. When you put your gas in, it went right into a receptacle.  The tank must have been well insulated because there was no odor, but there it sat.

Also at one point for reasons I still don't know, the driver pointed to the glove compartment.  I went to open it thinking that that is what he wanted me to do.  He let out a yelp when I undid the glove door. And now I know why.

The cover kerplunked off letting a host of rags, maps, receipts and who knows what fall to the floor. With one hand on the wheel, the driver leaned over and attempted to put Humpty Dumpty together.  I gently pushed his hand away because what with the gas tank in the trunk I didn't want his preoccupation with the glove compartment to result in our demise. I was able somehow to get the thing back on sort of, but a couple of items were stuck in the cracks. He good naturedly waved as if to say, That's fine.

I got to the airport early because (a) I had to check out of my room and it was cloudy today. Not much to do by the pool or beach and (b) not knowing the language I wanted to make sure I did not have a problem negotiating the signs and lines.  It was a bit disconcerting when I arrived as the place just looks like a huge hanger and signage--even in Portuguese is minimal.   However, for reasons that must make sense but I can't figure out, there are very few international flights--at least that American flies--that do not begin at night and go over night. Here in Brazil, it is only one hour later than in the Eastern time zone, so I cannot fathom what is up with just the overnight flights.  But because there are only overnight flights and because I got here early (though not earliest there were a half dozen multi-luggaged people ahead of me. And within minutes of my getting on queue, at least a dozen standing behind me)  I sailed through customs.

I do have a suggestion for this International airport.  Sell space for a restaurant or two.  There must be a proscription on the sale of alcohol and dinners here, because despite a lot of people arriving during the dinner hour for a later flight on which they will serve a meal for your average moth, there is nothing here to eat.  There are a couple of duty free shops selling duty free overpriced items of which I bought a few, and a couple of spots where you can buy a cookie or a coke, but no place to park yourself and watch a game while you consume and imbibe.  In Kennedy there must have been a half dozen of these joints as I waited forever for my flight to take off last week.  Nothing here.  I've been to airports in small towns that have more in the way of restaurants.  The Brazilians are losing out on some business.

I will survive without the restaurants.  Ate a bunch at the conference and did not work out once-even though they had an excellent facility for doing so and two hotel pools--one for lane swimming. Did not swim a lap. Ate healthily. Eating like a moth might be a good thing for the next twenty four hours.

Boy in Brazil

Years ago I picked up a book my dad had recommended.  It was called The Boys from Brazil.  Can't remember once when I was steered wrong with one of his suggestions. The Boys from Brazil was no exception.  A thriller and I remember that I could not put the thing down.

I am blessed with a very good memory and I recall something about the book that is not especially central. That is, while it might take a little something away from the read, it is not a big deal to write that at one point the word "ketchup" is key.

I think a character says something like in a million years I would never have known that it was ketchup. Again, trust me, this does not take much away from the book. I don't assume armies read my blog, but if you are intrigued, I did not spoil the book for you with this mention.

I thought of "ketchup" during this trip likely because I have been a boy in Brazil during the last few days.  Quite an experience.  Every once in a while I have to remind myself that I am on the other side of the Equator, a hoot and a holler East, and it is winter. Of course, I am reminded that this is not home every time I ask a question.  Unlike many countries, it is an exception for a citizen here to understand English.  Of course it is an exception in Boston for most of us to understand any language except English.  Other countries' denizens, though, are typically multilingual.  Not here. There is one fellow at the desk who has some capability, and a bartender, and here and there a few who can make out a couple of words, but for the most part--you better know where you are going.  More than once on this trip I have had to yank out the address of the hotel as I somehow had gotten off the beaten track.  Just a couple of hours ago in fact I had taken a walk and before I knew it I was elsewhere.

It would be a nice thing if there was a key word that you could utter and then all would be safe. Say, ketchup, and you can find out where the bus station is.  I thought my good buddy Siri could help me earlier today when I got lost. but when I called on her services, the message came up that said Siri was unavailable.  If my uncle had programmed Siri it would have read, "You're on your own boychik."

That is the way I have felt some of the time here.  People have been friendly. Conference colleagues a joy and engaging in a way people often are at these meetings.  A guy last night who was feeling no pain had me and a couple cracking up telling me about his exploits during the day as we urged him to get in a cab as his plane was leaving not too far in the future. Still despite the beautiful surroundings, the learning, and the friendly folks, I think the story is always the same.  We are all connected and when we are not it is unnatural. And we feel lost.  It is ironic, or perhaps telling, that I am and have been a loner for much of my life. I enjoy traveling by myself or at least thinking about doing so.  Yet there are times when I sense the discomfort of not being connected.  At those times it would be nice to just say the word ketchup and feel those who are close to you.

To my left as I write this, three women are cackling uncontrollably. They are watching something on a smartphone and it is all they can do to stay on their chairs. I will bet that had they each been watching whatever it was individually, the enjoyment would have been muted.

boy from ipanema

Some things are universal.  The person in the room adjacent to mine is blasting music since 7 am in a way that is making it difficult for me to think.  This aside, the experience at this hotel has been most positive.  Many people at the conference have complained that the hotel is far from everything--the meeting site, the airport, the ferry to Rio, and Rio itself.  All this is so.  About a ninety dollar cab ride to the airport and it would be close to 200 in the US as the cabs here are not that expensive.  A thirty to forty minute ride to the ferry that takes one to Rio, and about forty minutes to the conference site.  However, the hotel is very attractive, the people friendly, the pool inviting and the place is near a beach that while not as famous as Ipanema or Copacabana, is very pretty.

There is a book written about Boston drivers called, Wild in the Streets.  It is a humorous shot at how people drive in the hub.  My favorite line in the book goes something like this: "A genuine collector's item in Boston is a moving violation."  Things have gotten a bit tighter in Boston and you can get a ticket now and again for doing something egregious, but still the motorists in town make you have to become one of them or else you will get hit.  However, having taken now three cab rides and several bus rides in Brazil, I can write from a comparative vantage point that Boston drivers are wusses relative to their Brazilian brethren.

The cabdriver who took me to the ferry looks like everyone's kindly gentle uncle.  He rode on the butt of every car from the hotel to the ferry. I sat in the front seat and thought it was a bumper car ride without the actual bumps. The return trip at the end of the day was with a young man in a beat up car.  He looked like the high school drop out who finally got a job driving a hack.  I was going to pass on the ride and take a bus, but I did not like the looks of the bus station.  So, I went back to the youngster, negotiated a price as best I could since our common tool was using hand gestures, and got into his cab.  Let me tell you. Only the cyclone at Coney Island was a more hair raising ride.  This guy was great.  If you look at a map of Niteroi you will see that the Camboinhas beach where the hotel is, is on the northeast coast, and is far from downtown where the ferry departs to Rio de Janeiro.

The taxi driver from the airport, the bus drivers, the taxi driver to the ferry all took inland routes.

Not this guy. He hugged the coastal winding highway. Again, if you look at a map you can see how windy the beach roads are, and this guy was flying. Dodging in and out, leaving inches between us and the cars in front who also were not shy. It was part taxi ride and part carnival experience and part sunset beach tour.  I literally and actually applauded when the kid pulled up to the hotel--in far less time than any of his counterparts.  I almost felt like asking him to take me back to the ferry and then up to the hotel again, like a kid who enjoyed a roller coaster ride.

The day in Rio was enjoyable as well. I am pretty good with a subway map and kind of enjoy trying to figure out how to get where I want to go.  Of course, not knowing the language provided greater challenges.  I found may way to Carioca, the subway stop in Central Rio and through the labyrinthine walkways underground (no more complicated than Boston or New York, but here I could not read the signs).  I took the train all the way to Ipanema.

I read after I came back that Ipanema is one of the ten sexiest beaches in the world.  And I remember the song, the girl from Ipanema. Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema...

Well, both the boys and girls from Ipanema have not hit the gym much since Frankie crooned that song.  Occasionally you noticed someone well sculpted, but there was no shortage of folks who had not missed the buffet line. The girth, of course, was highlighted by attire.  I saw thongs on folks who might want to reconsider their choice of bathing garb.  Still the beach was beautiful. I took a few photos and as soon as I can upload them, I will place one here.

Downtown Rio seemed like a lot of large cities to me.  I think in large part this depends on where you happen to go.  Very big, not unfriendly, lots of folks--the ferries were jammed both ways--outdoor vendors, plenty of police presence.

Back at the hotel at night I took a walk to a nearby beach, sat by the pool with a Caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil, and felt a little sad that this would be my last full day.

The conference was valuable.  I met people doing interesting research. Thought about sports in ways I had not, watched many many soccer games in an attempt to understand the fandom of this sport that does not seem to me to have particular allure, but sure has to others. And as is often the case with travel, gained a perspective I had not had previously. 

Off to the airport later today. Maybe I can find that same kid taxi driver from yesterday.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Let Me Nutshell it for You.

A break from my Brazilian travelogue.  I believe this will quickly make the point to those who care to be dispassionate.

Let's say you move into a house.  As soon as you do, your neighbors on all sides say that they want to kill you. They say it is their house. You say it is your house and you have the deed. They say they don't care if you have the deed.  You start unpacking. The next day the neighbors attack in an attempt to wipe you out. You prevail.

Eight years later they try and kill you again. You prevail.

Eleven years after that they try and kill you again. You prevail and this time you extend your borders to make it difficult for them to kill you.

Six years later while, say, you're in church for easter, or you are at church for Christmas, they try and kill you again. Somehow, you get out of church, mobilize and again, you prevail.

Tell me, if your kids were in this house, and your neighbors for forty one more years would not retract their comment that you will be forcefully evicted, and every so often killed some of your children, what would you do?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cantiague--in Brazil

In the summer of 1967 I reached my peak as a basketball player.  I played my best ball as a counselor in a summer camp against other camp teams and, once, against a visiting crew of New York Knicks. The Knicks with Willis Reed, Howard Komives, and Walt Frazier did not try all that hard when they and two hand picked 15 year olds, played against our counselor team.  But I was hot in that game, must have scored in the mid twenties. Reed actually came out to contest one of my shots, Komives tried to box me out (successfully)--I don't recall Frazier trying real hard.  But I do recall that after I hit two long shots and drove past one of the fifteen years olds, the counselors were up 6-0 and the Knicks called time out.  At the end of the game Komives came up to me and said, "Nice game, Blondie."

So, at the end of the summer I figured I could play with most good players my age.  And the place you went at night in my home town area to play pick up basketball games under the lights was Cantiague Park, referred to by high school players simply as Cantiague.

So in late August and early September in 1967 I would drive to the next town and see how I could do at Cantiague.  Still could not compete with the really great players who would come there to strut their stuff. But I could do okay.

There was a lot of arguing at Cantiague. You played "winners' in the park. That meant that when you went to the court you got a group of three or four players together and you called "winners". This meant your team would wait to play the winners of the two pick-up teams on the court. As long as you won, your team kept playing. Lose a game and you might wait a half hour or more before you got on the court.  So, you really tried hard to win those games.  A lot of squawking about who fouled who and which team got the ball out. Some intra team tension if a player messed up causing your team to fall behind and run the risk of losing.

Fast forward 47 years.  It is about 10:30 pm in Rio de Janeiro in 2014.   I walked to a soccer field that I mentioned in an earlier blog sits very close to the hotel property.

It was Cantiague Park. In 15 minutes I was transported nearly half a century.  The court was lit up and the teams were playing five on five not counting the goalie. A team was waiting to play winners.

 I can not understand more than a handful of words in Portuguese, and those words I have learned since Monday.  But I knew, essentially, what these guys were saying. Players were yelling at their teammates because they did not defend well, yelling at the opponents disputing calls, exulting when they scored a goal, and leaving the court despondently when they had succumbed.  After a game concluded, in bounded the team that had called "winners." All fresh and ready to try and hold onto the court.

Unlike Cantiague there was a bit of a viewing area and a refreshment stand nearby.  Spectators were drinking beer as they watched. Sometimes the imbibing spectators were the same players who were waiting to play winners.

A few other differences.  The danger level in these Cantiague-Brazil games was great. The soccer balls were kicked with alarming velocity.  There was a fence surrounding the "pitch" but a couple of times I flinched as rocket soccer balls smashed into the fence near where I was standing.  The goaltenders made saves which made me wonder if they would still have fingers when they were done. Two players kicking the ball simultaneously made for the potential of some real injuries. While the yelling at Cantiague was not insignificant, these guys were yelling more.  Almost incessant squawking at their teammates for making plays deemed foolish by the squawker.

It is winter here, but it feels like those nights at the end of summer, where we teenagers who thought we could play, started in the early evening and might play under the lights until late into the nights at Cantiague.

Could not understand a word being uttered, barely understand the game, have no real clue about the strategy, can't tell how good these players are,  but I know this: this was Cantiague in Brazil.