Driving Dr. Gil

My job in the headmaster’s office of the Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro was as different as could be from the one I held at San Francisco’s Standard Oil Co. of California (now Chevron). Our office had accordion doors which were always open and looked out at another hill, the Rocinha favela, or slum. Below was the baseball diamond and sometimes I went down and acted as cheerleader with the teachers. On enrollment days my fellow secretary Alice and I processed a hundred or two new students. There was one American parent of special note, which I shall deal with later…..

My boss the headmaster, Dr. Gilbert Brown, was accustomed to riding with me down the hill after work when his wife, a teacher, left early with their car. On this day, as we exited the second gate at the side of the hill, we saw that my Beetle’s side window was broken. I opened the door and found both front seats gone.

Gil said, “Hmmmm,” and “Wait one,” then re-entered the gate and walked into the kindergarten building, returning with a little yellow chair. This was to be my driver’s seat. He climbed into the back, and set to wrapping the seat belt around me and the chair back. Getting a strong grip on both sides of the chair, he said “Go with God!” and we did. Well, slowly as I drove, the chair teetered hard over right and left on curves, and in this way we made it down the hill, me laughing helplessly as I steered and he gripped.

I asked if I should drop him off at the tennis club as usual, to which he answered, “Are you nuts? Go straight home, I can take a taxi from there.”

Gil went on to become headmaster of the American School in Costa Rica, and semi-retired to travel around the world as speaker and consultant. His wife died recently and I regret I could not travel to North Caroline for her memorial.


Kiss Me Kate

After a year in Rio de Janeiro as an overseas corporate wife and mulling over an occupation — not bridge, no — not golf, no — not the beach — I got a job at the American School of Rio de Janeiro and then joined the American troupe, The Little Theater. Our director Ruth Stanton launched a production that had us rushing off to have our costumes made. Mine was a mustard-colored gown (very odd I thought) and a tall dunce headpiece with veil. That item bemused my Brazilian tailor, who proved up to the job of securing it to my head.

I went up there to try out for the lead part as Kate, sang “So In Love” and received enthusiastic applause. But next day as I read from the script, “I hate men!” I looked over at the seats to see everyone falling over with mirth. Ruth said kindly, “It’s just not for your sweet voice, dear.” I knew that but had tried anyway, bringing my meanest vocal up from the guts. At this stage in my life I am still being asked by strange callers to call my mommy to the phone.

Well, Ruth gave me some extra “bits” to do, in one scene retreating backward from the court bully. In the audience, Renato was sending anguished pleas to San Gennaro in case I tripped (I do that a lot, or at least, I did). It is accurate to say that all my theatrical exploits were harder on Renato than on me. I was having fun. He had to bring himself to the performances and have panic attacks. At the performance itself his attempts to photograph me on stage were so erratic that a friend sitting beside him took the camera away from him and did the job herself. The results were far better than portraits of the necks of people sitting in front.Image

For one gig at the Hotel Intercontinental, I drove myself there, handed my Beetle over to the valet, and found I had locked the door from the inside. The valet looked at me, said he had to break the window, and proceeded to do so. It was Renato’s job to have it fixed, just as he replaced the stolen car seats. Not that he did these things himself. His driver Yusef came to the house and drove the car away sitting on a crate. I believe he found my seats at the flea market and bought them back. The broken car window was easier to fix.

The broken car window blog will be next.

The Girl from Ipanema

The current Copo do Mundo madness recalls the years I spent in Rio de Janeiro when the month of June came around. That was when our Doberman, Jeff, put his paws over his ears and burrowed under the sofa. The firecrackers, some big ones that blasted the eardrums, and fire balloons that passed overhead threatening and sometimes actually causing conflagrations, caused an exodus from Brazil of non-fans of the Copo. 

But the Girl from Ipanema! That song, my very favorite, is a genius collaboration between Tom Jobim and his lyricist Vinicius de Moraes. Jobim’s morning haunt was a sidewalk coffee shop on Copacabana Beach, where, presumably he composed the song. I guess he couldn’t fit “Copacabana” anywhere into his song and so used “Ipanema.”

The Girl in question is real. She could be seen doing her thing, undulating along the sand in a very tiny bikini, the kind the Brazilians referred to as “fio dental,” or dental floss. I understand she has a daughter or granddaughter to carry on the tradition. I once spotted Jobim having his morning coffee at a sidewalk cafe at the beach.

Brazilian men are very circumspect about women wearing next to nothing because beachwear and brief sundresses are commonplace and it is considered unsophisticated to gawk or say sexist things to women dressed in such manner. The men are proud of their women and even in landlocked cities such as Sao Paulo this attitude holds true. I could wish this philosophy upon Italian men in Italy, whose life occupation seems to involve touching, grabbing, and saying tasteless things to passing women. This was my lot when I lived in Rome and so, when I returned there in 1989 with Renato and again in 1991 alone, I felt somewhat neglected. So many years ago, now a memory.Image

About smoking

Reports state that the FDA is going to roll out a media campaign aimed at youths against smoking. The message will show black lungs, bad teeth, mouth cancers, and the like.
They miss the one factor that may truly influence the target: nicotine ruins the breath. Wouldn’t that be a powerful reason to avoid smoking? A teenager with bad nicotine breath! All that makeup or fancy duds for nothing. I wrote the FDA suggesting that they include this message in their campaign and received a response that it would be forwarded to the appropriate channel, whatever that was. 

Is my most worthy idea to disappear in the bottomless depths of bureaucracy? After all I didn’t hear back regarding my email about the python invasion in Florida. Image

Species invasion

The estimate is 100,000, and rising. Pythons in Florida are eating up the native wildlife. TV wildlife shows on this topic frighten me to death about fruitless attempts to capture these animals, which breed madly in the environment that is being so friendly to them. I wrote to the Secretary of Agriculture about it, never received a reply. Wildlife authorities expect the invasion to cross west and north. I am sure the snakes will love the Louisiana bayous but doubt they will make it farther up the continent.

The main thing is, Florida’s native animals are being devoured. Will someone tell me what is being done about it?