Another Brazilian connection

Susanna Melo and Brazilian ambassador Carlos Alberto Asfora look at Susanna and Keith’s photos of Georgia; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Susanna Melo and Ambassador Carlos Alberto Asfora; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Story by Susanna Melo

We keep meeting more Brazilians in Tbilisi. Today we visited the Brazilian embassy behind the Marriot Hotel on Rustaveli Avenue. We enjoyed talking with the “simpático” (friendly, kind) Ambassador Carlos Alberto Asfora. He took time to get to know us and he shared information about his career as a diplomat. We exchanged notes on our experiences in Georgia, and he took interest in the stories behind the photos Keith and I shared with him.

By the end of our visit, we were like family, so it seemed appropriate to invite Ambassador Asfora for a home-cooked meal. When he visits our home in July, he’ll get to meet William Santos and Anderson Lopes, young Brazilian ballet dancers, who are presently on tour in Japan. In the ten months since the Brazilian embassy opened, Ambassador Asfora has only met a handful of Brazilian futsal players. But now we all are aware of the growing presence of Brazilians in Georgia!

Ataide Melo-Machado Family in Belo Horizonte

By Susanna Melo

Approximately a year and a half after my first husband, Cecil Melo, died in Columbia, SC, I made a point of traveling to Recife, in northeast Brazil, to pay my respects to my mother-in-law. Seven years later, I was asked by my sister-in-law, Aninha, to return to Recife to resolve the sale of my home in which my mother-in-law had lived for 27 years. At this time, D. Teresa was beginning to show the first signs of Alzheimer’s, and my sister-in-law felt that it was time for her mother to move to Belo Horizonte, where she could be surrounded by family and receive better care. Five years have since passed, and again we planned our trip to visit Aninha, her family and my mother-in-law, knowing that most likely D. Teresa would have no knowledge of who we were.

Susanna and Dona Teresa

D. Teresa looked as beautiful as ever as she sat poignantly in her wheelchair in front of her nursing home. She gazed at her daughter, son-in-law, Keith and me as we arrived from the street, and I sensed that she suspected that this group of individuals had come to see her. All her life she loved it when family members came by her home for a visit and she always had cake and “cafezinho” ready to serve. This time, though, she did not really know who we were, but related to us as if she did, and our incoherent conversation went on as if nothing had ever changed. To the outsider who could not listen in, the visit resembled a normal family gathering, but down deep in my heart, I felt saddened by the loss of the person I knew and with her all the family stories and history that she so often talked about.

D. Teresa could not be luckier than to have an amazing daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren that have rallied around her 24/7 during her Alzheimer’s debilitating process. When I used to write letters or send birthday cards from the U.S. to my young nephews and niece, I always told them how proud I was of them for they were always sweet, good-natured children and excellent students. I continue to be proud of them, especially as I see their caring ways with their grandmother.

Ataide Melo-/Machado family: Mauricio, Thiago, Aninha, Fred, Nathalie, and boyfriend, Rodrigo

These “children” have grown up and are healthy, attractive, intelligent and hard-working young people with responsible careers: Thiago works for a well-known advertising agency and was recently responsible for a state health project fighting dengue that appeared on Orkut, Facebook and TV. He also plays in three rock bands that travel throughout Brazil. Mauricio, a civil engineer, is overseeing the construction of 34 buildings with a total of 680 apartments. Nathalia works as a training program analyst for a graduate program in Management at the Dom Cabral Foundation.

D. Teresa may not be aware of the legacy she leaves behind as she sits in her wheelchair watching the world go by. But we are witnesses to the loving family she has.

Schisler-Tims family in Rio

By Susanna Melo

James Nelson, Glaucia, Uncle Ed, Tia Frances (Tims)

My uncle Ed and Aunt Nancy were our only blood relatives living in Brazil (other relatives moved back to the U.S.) and every now and then our families would get together to vacation in Macae where they had a “sitio” (country home). Since my family always lived in southern Brazil, trips to Rio were not too frequent.

Perhaps the last time that we were all together was 45 years ago when we were kids and our diversions were as simple as putting on skits for our parents, staying up late at night telling horror stories while sleeping on the floor, or competing to see who would be the first to dive into the cold ocean water.

Back in 2003 our families came together once again, but this time in Sao Paulo for two formal ceremonies. My mother was getting re-married to Uncle Ed’s best friend, and my aunt and uncle were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. We cousins were delighted in seeing each other and meeting each other’s children for the first time. Lots of photos were taken, but because of the crowds and limited time, we really didn’t interact or connect as expected.

Over the years, we would get news from the Tims through my Aunt Nancy who had the talent of story telling. We loved her letters and loved hearing about our cousins. I know my father reciprocated with letters to his sister telling her about us. But after Aunt Nancy’s death to cancer soon after her 50th wedding anniversary celebration, those letters stopped coming and in a way, we lost touch.

Eduardo, Frances Marie, and Susanna

Our trip to Rio was to reconnect with my Uncle Ed and his second wife, Tia Frances, and my cousins, spouses and their children, who are mostly young adults. We had a great visit with all of them and got caught up on the news. Frances Marie Tims is a veterinarian and owns “Animalia Vet and Pet Shop” along with her husband’s cousin. Her husband Eduardo, Ph.D. in Forest Engineering, works at the Rural University in Rio. Paula, 25, has graduated in journalism and cinema; Lila, 18, has just taken the entrance exams into university for Vet school, and Leonardo, 10, is a soccer fanatic. James Nelson Tims and wife, Glaucia, have worked for TAM airlines as flight attendants for the past few years; before they worked for Varig airlines, but it went bankrupt. Their oldest daughter is interning as an architect and the youngest daughter is in high school.

Uncle Ed and Tia Frances seem happy together. And we were happy that we had quality time with them and my cousins.

Carioca (from Rio) friends

By Susanna Melo

Generally a trip to Rio means that one would spend time sightseeing its main attractions: Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, the Botanical Gardens, Paqueta Island, Niteroi, the famous/infamous Rocinha slum, museums, art galleries, etc. Our trip to Rio this year was to avoid these tourist sights. We were instead motivated to spend quality time with our “carioca” relatives and Brazilian friends from Columbia, SC, who have returned to their homeland after a period of residency in Columbia, studies at USC, or just to vacation back home during the tropical summer period.

Leda, her son Bernardo, and Susanna

We were guests in Leda de Barros Franco’s very welcoming, airy and comfortable apartment situated a block away from Copacabana beach. There we spent three nights and countless hours chatting or reminiscing on the many Brazilian ex-pat gatherings in Columbia to enjoy a “feijoada” in our home, celebrate traditional festivities such as Carnival or Sao Joao, or to spend New Year’s together as a family away from home.

Celso and Leda

Celso de Oliveira, retired Portuguese Professor at USC and my master’s thesis director, joined us at Leda’s for pizza and some delicious home-made “goiabada” (guava paste) from Leda’s family’s “fazenda” (farm). The evening extended into the early morning hours as we discussed politics, commented on cross-cultural issues and shared information on family members among other subjects.

Cecilia, Susanna, and Leda

Cecilia Duque, who has returned to Rio to care for her elderly parents, found time to escape from her duties to pick us up for an afternoon outing. She took us to Lapa and Alto de Santa Teresa, two areas in old downtown Rio that are being revitalized and are presently the hub for hip bars, restaurants, musical programs and art galleries. There, we got to see the exquisite Sao Sebastiao cathedral with its kaleidoscope stain glass windows (see past blog); Parque das Ruinas, high up on a hill with a fascinating view of Rio and an interesting exhibit of Brazilian folk artisans, and the Museum da Chacara do Ceu, a modernist 1954 home turned-into-museum with its owner’s (an industrialist) private art collection of approximately 22,000 pieces.

Ricardo and his parents, Conceicao and Dr. Tharcisio

On our last day in Rio, Ricardo Coutinho, Ph.D. in Marine Biology and an old time friend dating back to 1983, picked us up and drove us under torrential rains to Nova Iguacu where his parents live. We were hosted for the night at his parents’ apartment, albeit for just a few hours. That’s because Ricardo and his brother, Rogerio, took us to see a carnival rehearsal of the Beija-Flor Samba School in the neighborhood community of Nilopolis (see past blog) around midnight. We left around 3:30 a.m. even though the rehearsal had not yet ended, but we were getting a bus out of Rio that same morning for Sao Paulo and a plane that night for Tbilisi, Georgia.

To our friends, Leda, Celso, Cecilia and Ricardo (including his parents and brother Rogerio), we again thank each and all of you for making our stay in Rio so memorable. Keith and I concur that a trip is never that memorable or meaningful unless human bonds are established whether these are in the form of a family gathering, a visit to a friend, or simply taking interest in people wherever you are visiting. I, at least, tend to forget sights that I have visited, but not the relationships with people.

Beija-Flor: one of the leading samba schools from Rio

Special thanks to Susanna Melo for writing this blog entry and for help with photographing the event.

Keith’s dream has been to attend carnival in Brazil.  The closest we got to his dream was when Ricardo Coutinho’s brother, Rogerio, took us to his samba school, “Beija-Flor” in Nilopolis, a community in Nova Iguacu (outside Rio).

Ricardo Coutinho (left) and his brother Rogerio at Rogerio's home

Before attending the spectacle, Ricardo and Rogerio gave us a lesson on “escolas de samba” (samba schools that perform during carnival). For example, a samba school always has a theme that tells a story.  Beija-Flor’s theme this year is the city of Sao Luis in the state of Maranhao, known for its rich historical roots. The theme is always reflected in the costumes, floats, dance, and music. A samba school can have as many as 3,000 “passistas” (participants that dance the samba). Such a large number is then divided into smaller “alas” (groups) of around 100 individuals.  One person takes charge of an “ala,” and this usually means overlooking the making of the costumes, which are unique and elaborate, and rehearsing.  Since Rogerio is one of these small group leaders, we were able to see the beginning stages of the costume-making affair in his home, where he has a studio sufficiently large to make and store 100 costumes (see photo)!

A “porta bandeira” (bearer of the school’s flag) and a “mestre sala” (who dances with the flag bearer) lead a samba school throughout the parade. Percussion is a must for the rhythm of the dance and song. The theme song is chosen in a competition in which 50 to 100 composers might participate. Everyone sings this song over and over again throughout the parade. Children, young people, adults and the elderly participate in these samba schools.

Beija-Flor usually wins first or second place in the competitions during Rio’s carnival. Much of its success lies in the fact that 2,500 participants are neighbors and friends in the Nilopolis community; the other 500 participants come from other parts of Brazil or from abroad. Besides Beija-Flor’s carnival activities, it also promotes charity work and opportunities in the community for individuals to study, learn a trade and grow professionally.

The photos show some of the highlights of a samba school: the “porta-bandeira” and “mestre sala,” the percussion group, the “passistas,” and “baianas.” Keith’s dream has been accomplished, but now he wants to be a “passista” himself during the actual carnival parade in Rio. With Ricardo and Rogerio’s help, there is no doubt that Keith will be parading in the Beija-Flor in the near future. And so will I!

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Sao Sebastiao

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Next to the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s business district is a tall, conical-shaped gray building. From the outside, it just looks out of place. Inside, however, it is spectacular. Four floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows rise 210 feet from floor to ceiling, and a cross-shaped “skylight” appears at the top. Offically called the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, it is dedicated to Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of Rio. The structure was designed so that its windows could always remain open and allow cross-breezes to cool people inside. Overhanging “ledges” keep out the rain.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2012

Parking in Rio

A friend, Cecilia Duque, kindly drove us around Rio de Janeiro so we could visit some interesting places. On the way back to Leda Barros Franco’s apartment, she voiced her concern about parking, but Leda said not to worry. As Cecilia expected, there were no spots, but as Leda promised, a solution could be found. A street parking attendant simply temporarily moved two motorcycles and pushed one car forward (people don’t use their parking brakes just for this reason). Cecilia maneuvered into the newly created space. The other car was pushed back until it touched Cecilia’s car, and the motorcycles were scrunched together.