Accept What Is

Dear Friends,

It’s Saturday afternoon, which means that it’s a flea market day, a beach day, and the day for grilled octopus at the restaurant beside the gas station. In this corner of the world, where the sun washes up in waves on the asphalt, the jacaranda trees have shed their last blossoms, and the dogs never stop barking, there’s a certain rejection of what’s happening elsewhere. Over coffees and custard pastries, no one spoke of who died today based on their melanin, their religion, their gender, their hunger, their misfortune of being born in the wrong place in the wrong time. There are conversations about the economy, but they don’t last very long. Hard lines haven’t etched themselves near the corners of mouths, or eyes, yet. My mother has started using the expression, “It is what it is,” which seems to sum up the reactions I’ve seen here– acceptance; little resistance.

Yesterday, on Skype, my niece told me that she’s most glad about turning six, because it means that she’ll soon be turning ten, and therefore can get a phone, and if she’s ten, then she’ll soon be sixteen, and then twenty-two, the age when she’ll get married and have a houseload of childen. She really made me laugh, and each statement had to be explored fully, but it also made me realize that at all ages in our life we rush ahead, instead of fully enjoying each moment. It’s impossible to tell a child, “Think of today; treasure today.” We were all told that, and ignored it, or told that we wouldn’t miss it until it was much too late, and we didn’t understand what was being said. I’ve already told you that my only dream when I was ten was to be sixteen, then sixteen came and went, and was it what was imagined? Can things ever be as we imagine or is it the anticipation that holds all the weight of exitement, joy and wonder? If we could really put our minds at rest, I imagine we’d be more blissful than we could have imagined.

A very good friend, in another conversation yesterday, told me that she’s thinking of moving to Europe in the fall. She’s single, childless, intellligent, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful, so I wondered why the debate?  She confessed that fear was holding her back from taking the leap; no friends in the new country, no idea of what her place would look like, or what the future would hold for here there, whereas at home everything was “good,” but she had a feeling of discontent. I’ll share my response, because maybe it could help you too– “So what?” So what if you don’t know anyone, have never been there, don’t know the language, don’t know how to get around at first? You’ll learn or leave; you’ll thrive or leave; you’ll survive or leave; you’ll make it, but it you don’t, and I’m sure you will, then leave and try something else. As my Uncle Aubrey said, and I’ll never forget it, “Nothing is permanent.” One day, I’ll tell my niece the same thing, unless of course, she’s in her house, at 22, with all the children she wanted at 5.

I never really understood, though I’d heard it so many times in countless ways, that “this”, the right now, is it, not the plans for the future, but the living each day. I’ve imagined a lot, and dreamed alot; many things came to fruition and just as many didn’t. It’s wonderful though, because each day is another chance. We get the chance, and sometimes it seems the right questions aren’t being asked.

I asked my lovely friend, if she had savings, to which she answered, “Yes.” So then, what’s the worst that can happen? The very worst that can happen is occuring to some every single day, out of our sight, and often out of our knowledge. Maybe, we need a checklist to put things into perspective: no real obligations, a passport, savings, capable, intelligent, desiring– if it’s all yes, then there’s no worst case and no excuses. My niece only knows me via Skype now, and I hope she’ll take to mean that life doesn’t need to be conventional. This is what I want to say to her one day, “You are special; you were born in the right place at the right time to the right people. You are intelligent, kind and driven (and it doesn’t hurt that you’re beautiful), you can do absolutely anything. Don’t be afraid, and don’t let anyone (absolutely anyone) tell you something different.”

(*finally getting it)



Beach Day in Monte Estoril

other side of the tracks...

Words scrawled across the ocean, with the curves and dips of calligraphy, relay a full story: 1) The sound of waves, in no hurry, rolling in, that’s enough; there’s no need for other music 2) the melody of children laughing, as they skirt the waves; women giggling as they splash each other; men, with glee, stepping out of white sailboats, that’s enough; there’s no need for other melodies 3) the green blue indigo violet of the color spectrum’s end, sprawling across the vista, the tranquility it inspires, that’s enough; there’s no need for other views 4) the pink, red, orange, yellow, and blue umbrellas, standing like sentinels over receptive bodies, that’s enough; there’s no need for other protection.

You know what it is: to observe and be observed; to be created and create; to be a part of a tribe and alone.

You know what it is: to stop and feel the breeze surround you; to fill your lungs with salt and air; to let your ideas fly away in the beaks of gulls; to shake hands, grin, and mean it when you say, “Pleasure;” to sit in silence and think, and not think; to massage your mind, gently unwrinkling thoughts; to crave the sun and the shade; to crumble into the dust from whence you came.



“Would you like coffee, wine, water?”

“No, thanks.”

“Can I get you anything?”

“Nothing. Thank you.”

You know what it is: to want nothing; to watch sandcastles falling one turret at a time; to catch the scent of coconut and vanilla drift by; to be sated– to be complete.

other side of the tracks
other side of the tracks

The Universe Says, “There’s Enough”


Dear Friends,

Exactly a year and a half ago, I hung out with a hot surfer twice, while on vacation. Hot Surfer and I had a lot of fun: danced at a Cuban bar, drove around on a scooter, drank coconut water, spoke on a couch for an hour before my flight, and flirted a whole lot. That was the extent of our interaction, and I’m not keeping this clean because my parents are reading. If I hadn’t met him three days before the end of my vacation who knows what might have happened, though I couldn’t reveal that either, because I’m still waiting for a bird and bees talk from either of my parents.

Yesterday on Facebook, Hot Surfer posted that he and his girlfriend are expecting a baby. I’ll be completely honest with you, my initial reaction was that of disappointment. Mind you, I haven’t spoken to this guy in eighteen months, and have never thought about him in any way, except as someone with whom I had spent some good moments. He rarely posts on Facebook, so he’s never in my newsfeed.

After I saw his news, I wrote a close friend, “Another one bites the dust,” and even the beach couldn’t dislodge the strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I spent time trying to figure out exactly what the feeling was. Was it jealousy, insecurity, what? And, it was both of those to an extent. But why? 1) I don’t want him 2) I want a baby like I want a mumps measles malaria combo 3) He appeared to be simultaneously gaining and losing something precious.

But, he seemed so happy; they looked so beautiful together; only very young guys or old guys hit on me here, and I wonder if all the 30 somethings are gone?

That’s not it. That same day, I had spoken to another friend of the abundance of the universe, and here I was begrudging the happiness of someone I think’s a great person. If the universe is so abundant, why was I being stingy with my feelings? How hypocritical.

I’ve written so much about  how there’s enough for all; there are more seas I told you; there’s more love; there’s more joy; there’s another tomorrow, until the end. It never ends, I had also said. Why cast negativity, even a trace, on their supreme happiness? It was selfish and not the good kind of selfish. Something shifted, and I went back to Facebook, got on his page, and with goodwill, “liked” the post.

Now, if only the universe would send a great guy who’s older than 30 and younger than 45, who wants to excessively travel, wants no kids or pets, and loves yoga, that would be perfect…..Wait, I met that guy, and it wasn’t. Back to the drawing board.




p.s When you have time, please head over to FB and like the lettersfromval page. Thanks!

Tenho Saudades Tambem

image courtesy of  Wikipedia

Saudade is a word in Portuguese and Galician that has no direct translation in English. It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. (Wikipedia)

Evening rounded the corner and stopped. In the middle of the street, I watched shutters lowering, heard a song being sung, saw houses being lit from within, saw the sky’s lights competing– “You shine brightest.” Warm air deepened the perfume of the purple and red rose bushes in every yard, the lemons on every tree, the sweat from the schoolyard, the bread, custards and cakes at the cornery bakery, hair shampooed with lavender apple rinses. It caught me and said, “Wait, don’t go. Remember this.”

Caçapava: In 2004, less than 90,000 people, one vegetarian restaurant in the center of town where a complete lunch was $3, multiple bakeries, a movie theater that was closed down, a square where fairs were held, a large church, vendors deep-frying chocolate bars, pastel shops, barbecues and beer as the way of life, warm, gregarious locals, long stretches of road with no houses in-between, cows and white butterflies dominating the landscape, pizza and esfihas on Friday nights, riding the bus in one direction to the mountains, in the other direction to white sand beaches.

Dona Natalina. It would be hard to find a gentler woman than Dona Natalina. Dona Natalina standing in the kitchen with her hair pulled back in a low bun, a t-shirt and a knee-length skirt, looking out the kitchen window at the gate. She cooked lunch and dinner every day (breakfast was pastries and bread). For dinner, chicken, beef, rice and beans, vegetables, feijoada. She would make juice– usually, passion fruit or cherry, and for dessert, a large carrot cake with chocolate icing. You could always find her talking to and spending equal time with each of her three daughters and young grandson in the kitchen or hanging clothes on the line. Since, I usually came onto the property last, though I lived in a different house with her daughter Andreia, she always had dinner warm and waiting for me.

A stronger form of saudade might be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died.

I can understand why people stay in one place for a long time. The bonds that are built and the connections made must be priceless. For someone to know you without explanation, whether that be a family member, lover or friend, must be special. To gather moss…. Of course, the other side has its rewards– seeing new things, meeting new people, becoming new, learning new things, but it’s only a few layers deep. It seems when you say goodbye enough, you can say goodbye to anything. Complete non-attachment.

Caraguá: Drove to Caraguá with Eric and Alexandra to Eric’s parents house in Caraguá. All the windows were down, and our bodies leaning out to grab the wind. In that town, the sun always rising, miles of white beach, lying back and absorbing every last drop of sun, eating dinner outside, shot glasses of cachaça and large brown bottles of beer. Crispy pork skins sizzling, hot dogs, hamburgers with soft rolls, fish roasting in foil. The stalls at the night market: cotton candy, instruments and toys on display, colored t-shirts with “I Love…” emblazoned on the chest, pastry stuffed with chocolate and sprinkled with sugar on sticks, oversized churros, drummers sitting on wooden cartons, streamers of lights overhead. Where are Eric and Alexandra now?

Ubatuba: On a public holiday, I decided to take the bus to Ubatuba, about 3.5 hours away. My boss was having a barbecue at her house, which she often did, and I was in no mood to go. I booked a room at the Pousada Mariposa (clean large room, white sheets, ceiling fan, big bathroom)– the card’s still in my wallet eleven years later (a very big deal, because I keep nothing). When I declined my boss’s offer to go to her house that weekend, she told me that I was “too independent.” She told me that often, and meant it is as no compliment.

How I booked a room, I don’t remember; no Portuguese, no Internet, no assistance, no problem. Ubatuba: beach, beach, beach, the beaches, one after the other, never ending. Beachside bars, cafes, boys and girls carrying surfboards, topless guys on scooters, “shoes,” a noun all but forgotten, trees falling towards the sea and pausing in mid-air, skies with doorways to other skies, and roads that give way to mountains.

Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.

The years trickle through the fingers and blow away like the sand of the beaches of Ubatuba. Tapestries of people, songs, scents, tastes never to be seen again. The last bell fading into the wave receding. It was treasured, and brought pleasure, and now it’s gone. I stopped, because the evening stopped me and said, “Don’t go. Remember this.”

In Brazil, the day of Saudade is officially celebrated on 30 January. How special it is that in Brazil it’s important to put time aside for missing.

image courtesy of Wikipedia
image courtesy of Wikipedia

What Would Thoreau Think Of Facebook?

It’s the middle of the night. Thoughts were layering themselves like a lasgana in my head; and soon, I realized that I was still asleep. It was necessary to get up and write the words down, before they overcrowded me.

The pen ran out of ink in the middle of the second sentence. What else to do but get out of bed and find one? Note to self: Keep a couple of pens by the bed. My thoughts were of Thoreau and Facebook; specifically, what would Throeau think of Facebook?

Thoreau, my modern hero– a philosopher, poet, essayist, activist, naturalist, tax evader of an immoral government.

His first journal entry asks, “Do you keep a journal?” What would he think of the online chronicles of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? 1) Why are some causes more worthy than others? Are some lives more valuable than others; how do we rate disaster? 2) In the U.S, why are racial groups so culturally divided with their FB posts? 3) Why is nothing private anymore? 4) Why are ten hashtags needed for a simple thought? 5) Is posting three or four photos of oneself confidence or vanity? 6) Are we sharing the best of our lives or creating a false reality? 7) Is one real friend more valuable than 500 social media friends and followers, or not? 8) Why the need to be right about issues we know nothing about, really?

Would Thoreau use Facebook and Twitter as tools for his activism, especially in an age where being an activist is loosely defined– when almost everything is “a cause”? Would he use social media for steering people into right action, into waking up, into mobilization? Or, would he shun social media and find another way?

“I did not wish to live what was not life, living is dear, nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put rout all that was not life…” Henry David Thoreau, Walden


It’s 4:40am; time to go back to sleep.

Movements of Silence


In front of Pastelaria Pau de Canela, a boy, in a tie-dye shirt, runs past the pigeons causing them to flutter, surge and fall. They move as one. The boy’s not running to anything or from anything; he’s not racing anyone; he’s not exercising. He’s not fleeing his shadow. He’s running, because he’s healthy, joyous, and loves the feeling of his heart jumping in his chest.

On this day in late April, orange blossoms pierce the air; neighbors greet each other with sun in their voices; friends kiss each other on both cheeks; a father kicks a ball with his two sons; young mothers push strollers; couples walk arm in arm; a man buys a flower from a peddler. Bells intrude and recede: it’s one; it’s two; it’s three– the clock will continue to chime, when we’re gone.

A mother and daughter, in matching striped shirts, walk arm in arm; a girl feeds her boyfriend a spoonful of ice-cream; an old man with a cane pauses near the carousel; two middle-aged women savor strawberry cones; a man wipes dirt from his son’s feet; a toddler drops her lemon-lime icicle. Ash and sand and jasmine rain on us.

There’s always a guitarist in the square– this square or any other. He strums, and many stop to listen. His guitar paints thoughts lilac. “Prayers aren’t important,” a man says. Is that so? Then, wish others love, wellness and comfort without calling it a “prayer,” if the word offends. Help financially, if you can, but if you can’t: love is currency; a smile is currency; positivity is currency; action is currency; time is currency; blessings, spoken or silent, are currency. Self-love is capital; loving others, an investment.

There’s music, then there’s silence; there’s chatter, then there’s silence; there’s laughter; then there’s silence; there’s life; then, there’s silence. The world, tragedy-filled, but not tragic, goes on…



The First Date at Princesa do Castelo (It Happened Like This…)


The streets layer themselves; they collide; they diverge; they wrap around and meet; they hover over each other. They are multi-textured and multi-colored: slate, white, marble, cobbled, asphalt, rose. They know the beginning of tales: Senhora Fernanda is reading a book; Senhor Joao is smoking a cigar; Joana is cuddling her cat; Pedro is smoking a joint with his girlfriend; Mateus is drinking coffee at a round table; Carla and her lover are caressing. The street conceals and binds.

There’s a vegetarian café on the street, Princesa do Castelo, inviting pedestrians to enter. The walls are alternately orange and yellow; the tables and benches, wood; a giant red and white mushroom protrudes from a wall; Bob Marley issues from the speakers, “If you know what life is worth, you’ll look for yours on earth.” The menu: salads, soup of the day, nachos, hummus, noodles, quiche, desserts, fresh juices, alcohol.

From the heaving street, a couple enter, order two pots of tea, and settle into the banquette. They are new to each other.

“Where are you from?”

“XYZ. You?

“ABC. Have you been there?

The same small talk being practiced in cafés worldwide: ‘What’s your…do you like…where do you…when did you…?” The questions and responses fall and connect like stones in a wide river. There are some that will be needed to get to the other side. Some will pile into boulders– insurmountable and difficult to process; some will be held onto for safety.

He orders more tea; the laughter grows; the volume of the whispers increases; the energy of new attraction/lust/flirtation palpitates.

“That was good.”

“Yes, it really was.”

They rise– together– and step onto the wreathlike street. With them: white petals racing, a dog running (with its owner trailing), four men playing dominoes, all connecting.

If you know what life is worth, you’ll look for yours on earth.