The final word.

13 10 2008

It goes like this: I started this blog to write about my experiences in Brazil. To keep in touch with family. To have a permanent reminder of my everyday, to have a reason to reflect on each day. To remember my time there.

When I lived in New Haven, the reason I blogged was because I was asked by an editor to tell the city what it was like to teach in a public school and to wait tables for the New Haven elite. To inform, to uncover, to delight, to critcize. That blog ended, of course, when I moved to Brazil and discovered a whole new reason to write.

I’m bringing this blog to a close today. I do it not because I don’t have a reason to write; rather, I want to preserve this blog as a beginning-to-end record of my time in Brazil. It is a package of words and I want to keep it as such. I came, I saw, I danced, I went home. And because of all that, I now know where home is. And it’s with that idea that I joyfully wrap up all my words.

I am grounded in New York, and focused. I am connected to a family. I am thankful—-so thankful—-for the opportunities I have had and will continue to have because of my school, my wonderful family, and my ever-expanding group of friends and colleagues. Lately I’ve felt troubled writing here as if it’s inappropriate, as if my New York words somehow spoil all the ones the came before. I can’t bring myself to change the header on this blog. It was my home in Brazil. To change it seems criminal.

I end this blog today because I want to start a new one. In much the same way that I have started a new life here, I feel it is appropriate to start a new. Anew. With all that is happening in our country now, with all destruction from the past and with all the hope for the future, it seems appropriate to make a clean break, right here, right now. I’ll have a new blog someday, hopefully November 4th, hopefully when Obama is elected our new president. How appropriate it will be then to write from a place of change! (If you care to receive an update email, just subscribe to this blog using the button on the top right, and you’ll be able to find out what the new blog is all about.)

I’d like to say thank you to those of you who stumbled upon this blog somewhere over the past two years, who contributed good thoughts on sad days, and who celebrated along with me on the good days. Who gave me laughter and support. Food for thought. Friendship. Book recommendations. I’ve never known companionship like I have through this blog and I hope to see you again on another one.

So, until then, muito obrigada pelo seu amor, sua amizade, e pelas suas palavras. Ate mais…!


Two things.

1 06 2008

It is really cold today. I love it. It’s sunny and cold, which makes the cold even better, and the sky is bright blue and it feels like winter. I always feel really energized in the cold, although today I am wrapped up in my sleeping bag on my couch correcting poetry quizzes and realizing that today, June 1, I am a mere 20 days from going home. Which makes this cold even sweeter because when I go back it’ll be months and months before the cold comes and so I’m feeling particularly happy about this weather. It’ll be my first New York summer and from all I’ve heard about summers in the city it’ll be a sweaty one. Today is quiet and cold and beautiful and I am dismantling my apartment piece by piece and laundry load by laundry load all in the hopes that when the 21st rolls around I’ll be really ready to say a fond farewell.

The second thing is that things aren’t entirely quiet, because there’s been an engagement. Not mine, (because trust me, I would not spend a paragraph about cold weather before I announcing my own engagement), but my friend’s. It’s all very exciting and she and he came running over to my apartment this morning to share the good news.  Ah, love. 

In 5 Weeks.

17 05 2008

In my kitchen, I have a calendar hung on my refrigerator. It’s hung on the side that faces the sink and the washing machine room, so it’s only on rare occasions that I actually see the poster since the number of times I am at the sink or in the washing machine room is embarrassingly low. In any case, tonight I did make a journey over to that part of my abode and on my return to the orange couch my eyes caught the grids of the calendar’s page open to this month. I began by counting how many work days I have left this month ( 8 ) and then flipped the page to June. My eyes scanned the empty boxes until they rested on Saturday, June 21, the day I leave. Today is a Saturday and it is 10:56pm. That means that at this moment exactly, in five weeks exactly, I will be on a plane headed home. Five weeks is thirty-five days, if I’m doing the math correctly (and it’s entirely possible I’m not, so go ahead and check that, please) and so that means I am in an all-too-sudden-seeming countdown. 

I wondered who I was at only five weeks into this experience and so I went back and read the things I’d written in August 2006, just after I’d arrived. This is the first piece I saw and hadn’t forgotten that it happened at all.  Every time I wait for the bus, even a year and a half later, I’m reminded of how embarrassing it was to jump into the side of the bus and before I step up into the bus I tell myself to take it slow.

It was also around that time that I wrote this, which has become the most read post on this blog. I remember crafting it in my head the day I first heard that word “gostosa,” while sitting in my friend’s living room after a Sunday brunch with another seven or eight people, the same seven or eight people I have grown to wrap my days around here. 

And so it is with fondness and a little bewilderment that I realize I am really in the home stretch. I am thankful tomorrow is Sunday and it will be a slow day and relaxing. I may go out with friends or I may stay in and correct more papers. But whatever I do, I’ll have to make the most of it because five weeks from tomorrow I will be back in the States, landing at JFK, hearing the words “Welcome Home” from the immigration officer, then running into Dennis’ arms where I will stay forever.


16 05 2008

On my walks home from the bus stop after my evening yoga classes, I encounter the street cats. There must be eight of them now, or nine or ten. They lurk and play around behind the wrought iron fences that line my street, and I always stop to say hello to them or give them food when I have it. A month or so ago I bought a bag of cat food at the market on the corner and spent the weekend afternoons visiting the cats and giving them food that didn’t come out of other people’s garbage bags piled on the street. Dennis warned me not to make my actions a habit, otherwise the cats might be dependent upon me and not seek out food for themselves, so I have been very careful not to get into any kind of routine. But it’s made me nervous, too. Who will take care of them after I’m gone? Who will bother to give them food that’s made for cats so they wouldn’t choke or get stuck in garbage bags? 

Recently, however, on one of my walks down the hill from the bus I saw an older woman reaching into a bag she carried and scatter something on the ground, after which a whole bunch of cats came out of their hiding places and began eating. I watched her for a moment and soon realized she was feeding them cat food. So I stopped her and told her I did the same thing for the cats on the weekends. She told me that there were kittens around somewhere and that each kitten was more beautiful than the next. She said she feeds them every afternoon on her walk up the hill from her bus to her home. She has definitely made it a routine to give them food and so it’s because of her that I get to see the cats each evening. She’s the reason I look forward to walking home so much, and she wasn’t even aware. Neither was I, actually. Knowing she’s there to look after the cats makes me feel better about leaving. It makes me glad in my heart that there is a person who sees the cats as important and deserving of good treatment. We both know we can’t take the cats home, but we do what we can to care for them in the ways we can. When we met on the street that night, she told me, “Keep giving. Keep doing what you’re doing, and God will help you.”  Whether or not I believe that, it was nice to hear and it’s something I believe a little bit. Helping the little cats makes me feel like a better person.  

One of the cats follows me home to my apartment. She’s a calico little thing that runs ahead of me, rubs against my leg and then rubs against the stone walls as we walk. When she sees me walk up the hill, she meows to me or comes running towards me. She’ll jump up on a wall and purr, waiting for me to dole out the goods. Sometimes I have the food, other times I don’t. But whatever the case, for a few moments, I’m with good company. Our reasons might be different, but we both want to be with each other. 

As much as this makes me sound like I have more than enough potential to be one of those Cat Ladies I am afraid of becoming, it also makes me think about leaving, how often it is that we form attachments to a place or to a person just before it’s time to go. I search for this little calico cat on all of my walks on my street and I know I will remember her when I go away. Maybe it’s unnatural to think about this, to form a little friendship with a street cat. I wonder if she’ll notice that I’m gone? I think about this in the same way I wonder if the streets will feel my absence. If the padaria where I eat breakfast will somehow change or if the apartment will have saudade for me. They’re silly thoughts, I know. But if I miss them, won’t they miss me?

What it’s like talking with my mom about movies.

13 05 2008

It seems I’m the one with the memory in my family. Try living with two old folks in your house and you get a lot of questions like “What? What’s that you said?” and stories told again and again. Not even the good kind of stories, the kind you’d like to hear sitting in front of a roaring fire while sipping mulled cider in the dead of winter. No, the kinds of stories I hear repeatedly, even 5,000 miles away via telephone in Brazil, are these: “I saw Mr. Lumbra at the post office. He says hi. He’s getting a root canal on Thursday.” Those are the kinds of things I hear again and again. My mom always makes fun of me for repeating “I’m so tired,” all the time, but I don’t think she’s paid all that much attention to how often I say “You told me that already.”
She’s always been amazed by my memory; in fact, one of my earliest memories is her saying, “Gosh, Gina, how can you remember that?” after I’d told her something I’d remembered, some obscure detail of an outfit she wore or of something someone said on a family vacation in Tennessee.

It’s even worse when we talk about movies, and here’s why: the only actor’s name she can remember is Tom Hanks. In fact, this is SO true that I play a game with her: Name five movies that DON’T have Tom Hanks in them. There’s not even a time limit to this game and here are the ones she continually comes up with:

  • Gone With the Wind
  • Singin’ In the Rain
  • Lassie
  • Bambi

[and then a really long pause]

  • Something’s Gotta Give
[she likes Helen Hunt, too. This last movie varies. Sometimes it’s been “Bridge over the River Kwai,” other times “Mystic Pizza.” But those first four are pretty much standard. I think I play the game just to hear fifth movie because I have to wonder how the hell she thought of it.] 

In any case, we had another one of those conversations tonight via Skype. She was telling me about the movie “Mama Mia” that should be coming out at the end of June/beginning of July, in Vermont. The actors she was TRYING to remember were Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. Here’s how it went:

Mom: Oh! There’s this fantastic movie coming out! It’s “Mama Mia!”
Gina: Isn’t that a Broadway musical?
Mom: Oh yes! But they’ve turned it into a movie!
Gina: Oh. Cool!
Mom: Yes! And let me think….who’s in it? Ohhh, wait.
[At this point, a series of groans begins, as if she is audibly trying to wring her brain for the right names.]
Mom: You know, it’s the one who….she’s blonde….and, you know her. She’s pretty and she’s blonde. You know her! The one who….GLEN CLOSE!
Gina: Oh…well, it could be…
Mom: But it’s not Glen Close. It’s the other one. She sings! And she’s blonde and pretty…You know….She was in….oh, what’s the name of that movie? You know…she’s…….
Gina: Meryl Streep?
Mom: YES!! Meryl Streep! And who else…? Um, ah, wait a second….the guy Double O Seven. That guy. There was that guy, right?
Gina: There were a lot of those guys. James Bond?
Mom: Yes. James Bond. But wait, he was the one who…ahhh…uhhh, the one who…
Gina: Sean Connery?
Mom: YES! Sean Connery!
Gina: Sean Connery’s in the movie?
Mom: But not him. No, the other one. The other Double O Seven guy…..Tom Hanks!
Gina: Oh no.
Mom: I was kidding. Lighten up….But you know. Oh, help me! What’s his name? Uhhh…
[This goes on for several seconds and at last, it appears she’s wrung out the right names:]
Pierce Brosnan Brosnan Pierce!
Gina: Pierce Brosnan.
Mom: And there’s so many others!
Gina: We don’t have to figure them out. Two’s enough tonight. You can rest now.

She lets out an exhausted sigh as if she’s thrown herself across a finish line of sorts and appears to collapse, fully spent from remembering names.

It’s not like things are getting worse. This is how they’ve always been, since the beginning of time. She can remember numbers like they’re the keys to breath, but when it comes to names—-even MINE—-she’s hopeless. Trust me. I’ve been called the following: “Tico,” “Murphy,” “Kellie,” “Henry,” “Eliza,” “Frank,” and “Toni.” Those are the names her siblings and niece and nephew, her husband, and two dogs. (I dare you to guess who’s who.) I am her only child. I think that’s why she gave me so many nicknames because it was just easier than remembering my name. But go figure, I respond just as readily to my nicknames than to my real name and in fact, when Dennis calls me “Gina” I think he’s mad at me. 


My mom also told me not to write that conversation, but my writing does no justice to how it is in real life, so it’s not like I wrote it well or even accurately. There’s really much more anguish on her part, and much more laughing on mine. But I know she’s laughing now reading this, so you can just go ahead and take that, Mother. Ah, the pen: so much mightier than the memory.

“All is well in brainland.”

8 05 2008

The subject is a line taken from an email my mom sent me today after she received the results of her MRI, revealing no metastasis to her brainal parts. This, of course, is good news, great news, fabulous news, and we are all kind of woozy from the nerves coming crashing down, like they’ve been at a rave all night and then shotgunned a pot of coffee laced with thirty-seven packets of Splenda. We’re kind of feeling like that tonight, so you’ll excuse any typos, please, because I can’t even spell my name let alone give two hoots about punctuation.

(That “two hoot” thing is from my mom. It’s her polite way of saying “I don’t give a shit,” which is my way of saying “two hoots.”)  

I’m here with a few celebratory Hershey Kisses and I’ve polished off the string cheese, so it looks like I’m in for the night with plenty of nothing to do. But that’s fine with me because if all is well in brainland then all is well on the orange couch here in Brazil. 

Oh, one thing, though? I’m over there on My “Earthquake” post was published today and so now you can see it in a different place. 

I’d really love to have something better for you, but brainland trumps all of the good things in the world. 



A visit from Dr. Self.

7 05 2008

I am sitting on the orange couch, nibbling a string cheese. Self pokes her head in through the doorway from the kitchen.

Self: Hey there.
Me: Hiya.
Self: So. [pause] How’s it going?
Me: Well…?
Self: Yeah. I know. [long pause while she watches me type.] Whatcha doin’?
Me: This. Typing. Eating cheese.
Self: I thought you were going to yoga tonight.
Me: Me too. I forgot my clothes.
Self: Yeah, I saw that. You dropped them on the floor right before you walked out the door this morning. What was that all about?
Me: I have absolutely no recollection of that. None whatsoever. [pause] Why didn’t you say something?
Self: I don’t know. I thought you knew what you were doing.
Me: Clearly not. Do you realize I packed my black shoes in the bag and wore my boots to school? Not that that’s news or anything, but I didn’t even realize I was wearing my boots until after lunch today. What is going on with me?
Self: You’re elsewhere.
Me: No kidding I’m elsewhere. I’m on another planet altogether.
Self: Which planet is that?
Me: Planet Whatthefuck.
Self: [chuckling] Oh yeah? What goes on there?
Me: I have no idea. That’s what the planet’s all about. No one has any idea what’s going on.
Self: Sounds a little like Earth, my friend.
Me: Hm. Maybe.
[long pause]
Self: So. You okay?
Me: [pause.] Well, what should I say? All the cliched things that ever existed: “I could be better.” “I’ve seen better days.” “Fine.” “Life’s a bitch.” “It all happens for a reason.” “God’s got a plan.” “Think positively.” Fuck all those things actually. Right now I feel a little like throwing up, a lot like going to sleep, and half like eating a bunch of Hershey Kisses and curling up with a book for eleven days in a row.
Self: Sounds like depression.
Me: No! It’s not! It’s being in a place—both physically and emotionally—where I can’t DO anything. It’s not having any control, it’s being far away from my mom who is my entire world and not being able to stop any of the shit that is going on inside of her and not being able to do anything that has any kind of result at all. That’s what it is.
Self: Yeah, but…
Me: No. No “but.” I am perfectly entitled to feel this way. I am absolutely able to feel the way I feel and lash out when I want to lash out and not talk when I don’t want to talk. I have every right to cry whenever I feel like it and I have every right to say what I want to say and not say what I don’t want to say.
Self: But wait. Please.
Me: What.
Self: [gently] You know this isn’t about you. This time it’s not about you.
Me: [choking up.] I know that too.
Self: And that makes it harder. If it were about you, you’d probably be okay with feeling however you wanted and not be worried about defending your feelings like you just did.
Me: …
Self: And you feel you have to somehow find strength in you. And you don’t know if it’s there.
Me: [sobbing now]
Self: It’s there, Gina. It’s there. You have to find it and you will. You don’t have a choice in this matter. As much as you need your mom, your mom needs you more.
Me: But I don’t know how!
Self: No one knows how. You’ll find a way. You have amazing support from other people!
Me: But that’s not fair to put on them.
Self: First, stop. You’re not dealing with this alone because what we’re here on this planet to do is to care for one another. You care for your mom, and others care for you. It’s called Humanity and you’ve got to believe in it for once. Second, breathe.
Me: [breathing]
Self: Breathe deeper. Take another breath. A big breath.
Me: Mom says that all the time.
Self: Well, she’s right.
Me: I know. [rolling eyes] She’s always right. [breathing again, calming down.]
Self: Better?
Me: For now I guess.
Self: You mentioned Hershey Kisses earlier.
Me: Yeah, they’re right there. [Pointing to a half-eaten bag on the couch.]
Self: Jesus, Gina. Half the bag? You just got these last weekend.
Me: [grinning] So it’s been a rough week.
Self: It’s gonna be a rougher bathing suit season if you keep this up.
Me: Ah, so sue me.
Self: I just might if you sit on me by chance in the next few weeks.
Me: Okay, okay. Enough out of you.
Self: Seriously. You’re so lucky they don’t sell these things in Brazil otherwise you’d have to check your ass as extra baggage on the flight home. Airlines are charging even more these days for that kind of weight.
Me: No, really. I’m feeling much better. You can cut it with your humor.
Self: You’re sure? Because I could go on. I’m on a roll.
Me: Nah, really. I’m fine. Thanks.
Self: Okay! Just let me know if you need some more laughs. I’m full of ’em.
Me: Sure. [pause, glancing at Self] And thanks. I mean it. You’re not so bad sometimes.
Self: Aw, shucks, kid. I didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know.