I was there but a year, still glaringly dressed like a foreigner but settled in a sweet little house facing Rodrigo de Freitas Lake and the soaring peak of Corcovado, when my purse flew off my shoulder. The perpetrator disappeared around the corner while I was yet recovering from being knocked askew.
As I rounded the corner I saw my purse lying on the ground, its contents rifled. It wasn’t the lost cash that upset me, but the documents that went with it. Having spent five years in Italy standing in line at government offices applying for this and another document, I almost forgot that I was now an American citizen with financial resources. As in most European countries, one could hire an intermediary agency to do the standing in line. It wasn’t the case in Italy when I was merely a penurious local.
Another time, I was climbing onto a bus when again my purse was ripped off my shoulder. The young boy who had my goods ran through traffic across the street and I found myself aiming the point of my umbrella at him as though it was a rifle. As he ran he rummaged for my wallet, then dropped the purse. Far off, at the curb, a man picked it up and as I came up to him he handed it to me. He shrugged in philosophical fashion, saying the poor had their methods and for me to take being robbed in stride.
Easy to say. But by then I had also acquired a philosophical bent about the episode. In Rio de Janeiro one did not wear gold jewelry outside in the streets and it was your own fault if you lost it. A friend was stopped in her car at a light when a man reached through the window on her side and tried to grab her purse. Reacting, my friend slammed the door open into him. I called her James Bond for a while after that.
While walking on a street in Sao Paulo, a city that reminds me of Manhattan, Renato had a hand plunge into his pocket.
Street robberies are growing in alarming numbers in the United States and often they involve guns, which weren’t a component in Brazil. Guns guns guns guns. Sometimes I despair.
Borrowed, with thanks from Stoneslide Corrective, a literary review.
“Titles from Poems Donald Trump Wrote While in College
“Many Americans consider Donald Trump a blowhard with no appreciation of fine thought or subtle expression. What few people know is that while Trump was in college he composed and published many, many poems.
“Our own Sylvester Stonesman has spent the last month in a deep investigation of the little-known, lyrical Trump. He scanned every student publication from the years Trump spent at Fordham University and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. His research led him to interview Trump paramours and conduct forensic tests on bathroom stalls in dozens of bars in the Bronx and Philadelphia that were known Trump haunts.
“What Sylvester uncovered casts a new light on the Republican front-runner.
“Here are the titles of some of the young Trump’s previously lost works.
“Your Eyes Are as Beautiful as a Zoning Variance”
“My Father Will Ruin Him”
“I Am Not Petulant”
“It’s Not My Fault Your Father Can’t Scam the System”
“Sucking Up to Me Is Always Your Best Move”
“Cuddy Totally F*cked Those Guys Up!”
“You’re Lucky Kicking Your Ass Could Stain My Shirt”
“Only Morons Get Drafted”
“I’m Not a Coward. You’re a Coward.”
“That Is Not How You Make a Manhattan”
“Lapis Lazuli Dance”
“My Tie Is Worth More than That”
“I Am Not Childish”
“I Didn’t Know She Was One of Those Bra Burners”
“Nineteen Ways of Looking at Your Ta-Tas”
“Sluts Like You Have No Credibility”
“None Dare Call It Sleazin'”
“I Ask Myself Which I Love More: Your Eyes or Your Whatever?”
“If the Wind Could Be Taught to Sing, It Would Sing TRUMP”
“A Real Estate Venture in Brooklyn”
“Oh, Pen, Why Art Thou Not Signing a Deal Right Now?”
“Everybody Loves Me (Morons Don’t Count as People)”
“Watch Yourself! You’ve Never Known Pain Like My Baleful Stare”
“Let Me Not to the Marriage of One Woman Be Held”
“Self-Respect Ain’t Good Enough for Me”
“For the Last Time, I Dumped Her”
“Inestimable Net Worth: An Ode”
“Intimations of Immense Wealth”
“How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Profits”
“Because I Could Not Stop for SEC Regulation”
“The Little People Love Me”
A friend, name of Pauline, came to Renato and me for help after her purse was snatched and she subsequently received a note offering to return it if she went to the Morro Santa Teresa in the north end of the city. Morro Santa Teresa was a tree-covered hill in a somewhat dubious neighborhood, and Pauline was reluctant to go up there alone.
To avoid looking like a possibly wealthy foreigner, Renato duly changed into workingman’s clothes, paint-spattered jeans and an old shirt. For added panache he fashioned a hat out of newsprint as painters were wont to wear. I had trouble finding something “poor-looking” to wear but eventually settled for a plain cotton shift.
And so the three of us drove there in my little Beetle, following directions to the thieves’ hideout at the top of the Morro. Renato told me to turn the car around facing downward before we got out and proceeded into the shack.
The two men inside were ever so polite, giving us a story of how they were trying to install electricity for the poor people living on the hill, etc. etc. They said they were not the people who had stolen Pauline’s purse but had found the empty wallet on the ground, and since her ID papers were still in it and it would be so troublesome to replace them, they didn’t doubt she would want it back. It was now Renato’s turn to make his speech.
Since it was obvious we three were foreigners regardless of his clothing, Renato explained that he wasn’t rich but would be glad to donate some funds toward their worthy project. He then handed over some cruzeiros equal to about $40 and received the wallet in return. We said cordial goodbyes and walked back to my Beetle at a casual saunter, got in and drove out of there with dispatch.
I have used this episode in a story or two but this version is the absolute, purest, unembellished, straight truth.
I have just finished reading his novel “Lost Soldiers” and come away deeply impressed with this man. A highly decorated Vietnam Marine veteran, former Secretary of the Navy, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, and former senator from Virginia, he writes with humor and toughness.
The main man is Brandon Condley, a Vietnam Marine vet who has become more at home in Sai Gon (note the preferred Vietnamese rendition of Saigon) than anywhere else. He is likable, cynical, and unable to discern a future for himself. His good friend is Dzung, a South Vietnamese war hero reduced to driving a cyclo and relegated with his family to District 4 with fellow South Vietnamese vets by the communist conquerers.
Dzung is special in his own right; his impudent conversations with Manh, a government agent, are a delight. One can picture him straight-faced as he delivers irony and sarcasm on the new regime despite Manh’s warnings to be more respectful. His pitiable earnings of $5/day and hungry children have not defeated his mental prowess.
As Condley strives to identify retrieved lost bones and track down a deserter and murderer with anthropologist Hanson Muir, we are shown what Sai Gon the city is like on the streets and in private Vietnamese lives. The traffic chaos and noise come through with a will. I liked the author’s reference to the government officials striving to send their children to the UK or the US to study and find a future on their return to Vietnam.
I like James Webb because of the way he writes. So much of him as a man comes through. There is sophistication, intelligence, compassion, wariness, and knowledge of human foible that could well translate into good governance.
At the present time his candidacy for president doesn’t seem to have reached much prominence. In the meantime, I look forward to reading his classic “Fields of Fire.”
North of the San Francisco Bay Area, Lake County is going up in flames, a conflagration that thousands of firefighters have been battling for more than a week. At 106 square miles, the largest of two dozen wildfires now burning up California in this fourth year of drought, it has sent hundreds of people out of their homes. I also grieve for the wild animals running for their lives and losing their habitat. It hurts, and there is nothing I can do for them.
On a day beginning a memorable week in October 1991, fire swept toward our home in the Oakland Hills. Neighbors leaving their homes stopped to wish Renato and me good luck as we loaded our cars. We did not leave, ourselves, but listened closely to radio bulletins on the progress of the flames. Renato climbed onto the roof and hosed it down as ash fell on him.
Years before, I’d prepared a list of things to pack in emergency and I used it now. Two days later we were still at home; the fire had been quelled one hill distant from us. Renato complimented me on the manner in which I had managed the packing list, though he asked why I had included 16 rolls of bathroom tissue. I was baffled myself, since we planned to go to a hotel.
The subconscious never dies. I must have traveled back to the refugee relief camp in Catania, Sicily, where the toilets were holes in the ground and one had to use newspaper.
The toll of the hills fire: 3500 homes burned, 25 persons killed.
The other day the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about the miserable state of the waters off Copacabana Beach and a photo that the Associated Press reporter took. All I could see was solid trash, made macabre by a doll’s broken face and body floating amid the sludge. All that is mixed with dead fish.
THIS is where the olympics regatta is to take place? And competing swimmers?
The story went on to say that local sailors have gotten sick from contact with the water, and of course no one dips a toe in it anymore. The local authorities insist it will all be cleaned up by next year. But how? If the sewage system was inadequate in the first place, how can the vast network be fixed in such a such a short time?
A close Brazilian friend tells me that corruption is rife in the country and that things all over are going to hell.
Renato and I lived in a small house across the Lagoa (Lake) de Rodrigo Freitas with a view of Corcovado, Christ on a Cross, on the peak on the far side. Periodically there would be a fish die-off and our summer would be rife with the smell of it. The magical sheen of belly-up silver would linger for weeks while the city scooped away at it. The AP news story said there would be other olympics events held on the lake.
I mourn what is happening in that city. Brazil was set on an upward course when we left it in 1980, and now…?
You can’t fight them, you can’t sanction them forever, you cannot hold them outside your sphere of operation to the end of time. I am talking about Communist China and Communist Vietnam, and even the former Soviet Union.
The United States has been sanctuary to the citizens, including myself, of all these nations. Cubans who left their country are not exclusive in that sense. And in protesting the resumption of relations with Cuba, they do not understand that throughout history former enemies become allies, some if only through trade. Japan, once a deadly adversary, is now solidly a world partner.
All that is only recent history. Cubans living on the shores of America should think of similar recovery of their native land. Cubans living in Cuba must either come around or stay isolated in poverty and stagnation. There is no need to forgive the human rights aspect, but recognize that all communist nations and all revolutions commit atrocities in that arena.
Communist China executed 20 million citizens (and possibly twice that many) in their takeover; Vietnam all but exterminated their citizenry in the south. The Soviet Union beginning in 1917 slaughtered tens of millions. These nations did not require proof of good reason to do so; it was enough to be a dissident. Japan went to work with a will in Asia killing and torturing indiscriminately. The invading soldiers from that country massacred 240,000 civilian Chinese, children and pregnant women in Nanking, for no purpose but that they could.
And so, Cuban migrants in America, drop your objections to resumption of relations because of human rights violations in your country of birth. Nothing will work better to mitigate their brand of communism than open trade and travel. Think of the relief of being to obtain scarce car parts, or even being able to manufacture automobiles themselves! In five years or less, memories of mistreatment will be submerged in a release of tension between Cuba and the United States.
How do you think victims of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Soviet Union persecution view our current toleration of each other?
A natural progression of necessity in a shrinking world.