A Girl in Ipanema (that's me 😉)

The heat is overpowering. The sky of Rio de Janeiro stretches blue and untouched above my head. Homeless men line the sidewalk, passed out in drug-induced sleep, no shirt upon their backs, skin jet-black from the sun. A woman walks past me, nursing her naked brown baby at her bare breast. 

People swarm the Ipanema Beach, dressed in as little as possible. String bikinis, speedos, tube tops, no tops. I am dying in capris and a t-shirt, my umbrella open above me, giving only slight relief from the sun. 

There is a tropical magic in the air. This is the region where the famous “Girl from Ipanema” was composed. The story goes that Antonio Carlos Jobimwould sit every morning in his favorite cafe facing the window and see a blonde-haired beauty walk by on her way to work. He composed the bossa nova jazz tune and had his friend, Vinicius de Moraes compose lyrics to match the story. I understand the curiously striking and exotic aura of the song, seeing the hot charm of the Ipanema Beach.

Our hearts are beating irregularly from the heat, so we stop at a side cafe and get a glass of sugar cane juice to cool off. It is fascinating to see the long green stalks grind into the great juicing machine. Every restaurant, cafe, gas station has one of these. Even at the very smallest, greasiest dive you can get a glass of fresh-squeezed mango juice. 

I drink the sweet green juice, trying to still the beating of my dehydrated heart. But it makes me thirstier, so, seeinga concessions stand with a big waterfall of coconuts hanging off the side, we head for some coconut water. One coconut is 5 reals, a little over 1 American dollar. We order two, watching as the man gets an ax and lops off the tops of the coconuts and sticks a straw inside. It is raw, sweet, refreshing. The hairy coconut is heavy and awkward in my hands. 

We pose for a picture with the statue of Antonio Jobim, the blue umbrella framing our faces and melding magically into the sky. Teenagers from the favelas sit under scant trees, selling handmade jewelry and woven baskets. I buy a mismatched pair of feather earrings.

Then my husband points it out. The Ipanema Cafe, where Antonio Jobim wrote “The Girl from Ipanema”, sitting in a sticky corner overlooking the simmering sidewalk. The restaurant is packed to the gills, the fans whirring desperately above the pictures on the walls of Jobim’s manuscript.

I push through to sit at the one empty table without waiting for the receptionist. A drop of sweat runs down my back. I lift my hair, all two feet of it, twisting it on top of my head, feeling the fan on the nape of my neck, the breeze wafting through the open windows. I wave a hand at the waiter, “Con license! Con license!” No one seems to understand my version of “Excuse me.”  Finally he turns towards me, sees my raised hand. “Agua. Agua.” I mime drinking desperately. James tries to supplement my broken Portuguese. Sizzling iron skillets of picanha float to the tables around me, adding to the heat of the room.

My heart flutters. Weariness and nausea from the heat overtakes me. It becomes apparent to me that I need to get back to the hotel before I die. Visions of the swimming pool flash through my head. I slap a mosquito off my arm and call an Uber on my iPhone. The waiter brings two water bottles. I guzzle mine, marveling how the locals around me aren’t affected by the heat. They are laughing, talking, eating hot food, drinking beer and Guarana sodas. 

I feel like a tourist. I suppose because I am a tourist.  I am in South America and I feel a sudden happiness at the experience, the adventure, being able to see what life is like on the other side of the equator, even though it may give me a heat stroke. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

We leave 5 reals on the table and climb into the Uber. The air conditioning hits me like heaven. Cold, sweet luxury. I lean my head back and dream of the hotel swimming pool only ten minutes away. 

 

Hear my favorite version of "The Girl from Ipanema" here.

English Magick

I confess to writer’s block. This blog keeps slipping from my grasp. How do you put one amazing trip across the pond into one blog that justly chronicles feeling and thought? What are those nebulous terms anyway? 

Who am I?

Just kidding…

When push comes to shove, the thing I brought home from England was a sense of magic. My small plebeian-consumer bohemian-hipster 21st-century 20s-statistic head got blown to smithereens by the sheer immensity of history. And how that history, the farther it goes back, gets bigger and more unexplainable. 

For instance, how can one man take away an entire country’s culture, kill people, burn all ancient Christian books and ravage churches because of a money-mongering divorce and people still honor him?

Which brings us to kings and queens itself. Visiting Windsor Castle where all the great monarchy of England lived before Queen Victoria and marveling that these walls listened to the daily patter of people who were the leading rulers of the world. The wealth of a castle itself gives authority. For goodness sake, the King had a room to sleep in, to put on his house slippers in, to get his bath in, to eat his breakfast in, to listen to his daily appointments in, to get dressed in… Haha. For real, he almost had that many rooms!

And then we saw Glastonbury Abbey. Burned by Henry VIII. Traced back to AD 64. The legend says that Joseph of Arimathaea traveled here with Jesus in the Hidden Years (when Jesus was 13-29 years old) and they built a chapel of adobe. Joseph returned years later and established a monastery here with eleven disciples. 

The place has an eerily holy feeling to it. Like it’s way bigger than you and you could never know what is here that is unseen. The brilliantly emerald grass of England amongst towering stone arches, Gothic walls leading nowhere. Our Lady Chapel, re-built thousands of years ago when the daub one burned down, is the heart of the Abbey ruins and stands the most in tact. You can almost feel the ages of history, the remains of the thousands of saints that are buried in the grasses surrounding the Abbey. 

And then, of course, that’s where King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were buried. No biggey. Apparently when King Edward and Queen Eleanor came to honor and move their grave to the place of honor in the Abbey in the 1000s Queen Guinevere still had shimmering waist-long golden hair that disintegrated when she was touched. And then when Henry VIII ransacked the Abbey the grave was destroyed and Arthur and Guinevere’s remains disappeared.

We know because they took Instagram photos of it. 

Actually back then they had a social media program called an iWitness Account. 

Haha. 

I know. I stink at jokes… ; )

Then there was the day we drove through the dazzling green meadows of England farmland and saw idyllic stone farmhouses with ivy creeping up the walls and orchard trees and white sheep. Or saw the great Bodleian Library where Hogwarts was placed and has books that are thousands of years old and a fellow of the library must know the original language, whatever it may be, to read it.  Or ate in a pub that was built in the 1600s. There’s a reason BBC films all their Masterpiece Theatre mini-series here. They don’t have to build any sets.

The last day in England we stopped at Stonehenge. This place beat any of them. 5000 years old. Stones standing against the cloudy England sky in a bitterly cold, rainy afternoon. Sheep graze around the Henge, keeping the grass naturally chopped short. One of the archaeologists on site told us about the phenomenal history of the place. There are villages that pre-date the Henge underneath the soil. If you knock over a few molehills with your foot, you’re bound to find ancient artifacts. There are barrow-downs everywhere where people who appear to have been great men of ancient eras are buried. You can draw a straight line from the outer rocks of the Henge to the Great Pyramid of Giza (also built around the same time). How did they know how to make a straight line across the world before satellites?

StoneHenge

There’s an outer rock that I am convinced is a troll turned into stone. He was probably the troll set to guarding StoneHenge. Or maybe the troll that was trying to destroy StoneHenge that was outsmarted by a wizard. You can decide for yourself.

TheStoneTroll

There’s a reason so many of the great fantasy novelists have come from England.…

You can look at my iWitness Account on Instagram (@camillerosemary) to see more pictures of Merry Olde England.

 

London Jitters

As a little girl I loved nothing better than historical novels. Dear America Diaries, the Little Maid series, Elsie Dinsmore, Laura Ingalls Wilder, you name it. As I got older, that love morphed into real diaries: Sarah Morgan’s famous Civil War account, Anne Frank, random real diaries that I found as a pre-teen discovering Amazon’s labyrinthine possibilities.

And now I’m in my second childhood. Historical novels. I’ve read nothing but historical novels for 2 months.

I LOVE THEM.

There was a part of me when I was choosing my degree that genuinely wanted to get my Bachelors in History rather than English. In the end, I decided that I could learn about history through English. So I did English. Besides, more novels and less curricula ; ) 

That to say, I hate when I read a historical novel that completely butchers history. Not naming any names, but I just read a novel that totally messed up Anglicanism vs Puritanism. This elderly agnostic novelist had clearly never been to an Anglican church before or read any books about Puritanism other than her 5th grade history book, which also talked about turkeys and pilgrims. 

Grrrrrrr…

Anyway… when I met James he took me out to sushi for the first time in my life. I think I fell in love with him right then and there. I entered into Ginza in Green Hills in Nashville (so yummy) and found myself, with a little bit of imagination, right in Japan. Later on in our dating he took me to an Ethiopian restaurant. Never tasted anything like it, the sponge bread, the tea, the lentils… A Cuban restaurant with dancing and real Cuban coffee. A Costa Rican place. An Indian restaurant, with a man playing zither and mutton cutlets with bones in it and curry (ah, curry!!!) and coconut milk (love love love). And then a Thai restaurant, with more coconut milk (seriously love), where I accidentally poured the wrong bowl over the wrong bowl and made a mess and then had a spice attack of tomato-color proportions blush up over my face and had the waiter laughing at me.

Ah well.

Not to say that those cuisines are my favorite taste-wise, but to me, every time I walked into one of those places I felt like I was in a magical bubble, propelling me into another culture, experiencing another part of the world.

The world is so huge. And I want to see it all. 

So that’s why we went to Italy for our honeymoon. We are incredibly excited to be going to Brazil at Christmas to meet James’s whole Brazilian family (!). And in six hours, I am going to be at the airport getting ready to fly to London. I have the Little Dorrit miniseries downloaded on my phone and Wolf Hall in my backpack so that I can get quite immersed in English-ness before I arrive. You can imagine how excited I am. If you want to see the fruit of the excitement, you can check out my Instagram (camillerosemary) through the journey. I will be spoiling everyone’s news feeds.

The Grass on the Prairie

Nebraska

A Western Odyssey

I am in a pretty little attic room at the Prairie Creek Inn, with Victorian furnishings and wallpaper, and a window that overlooks a green Nebraska field glimmering with dew.

I roll out of bed and walk out into the hallway, where the smell of breakfast wafts up the glossy wooden stairs. Gretchen is in Annie’s room, getting beautified for her moment in Where You’ve Always Been, the first music video shoot of the day for our new album American Rhapsody. Outside Paul, Tim, David, and Graham, our incredible, can-do camera team, are consulting with Alex and Mama about scenes. 

Being an avid believer in the happiness induced by a solitary country walk, I set out on my own to peruse the grounds. There are rustling green soybean fields and a hobbit door sprouting out of a hill.

The prairie grasses growing taller than my head; a gravel path running through a small grove; the Lake of Shining Waters spreading before me.

Wildflowers growing by the side of Prairie Creek, and a butterfly resting on one of the pink blossoms. I hear the voices of the children, David, Audrey, Vincenza, and Evangeline, coming from the farm where Benjamin and Berklee are letting them pet the horses. 

Back at the house, I rush through hair and makeup in preparation for a piano shot on Where You’ve Always Been. Through the window, I hear the song coming through the monitor and riding on the wind up to me, and see Gretchen, pristine and slender in her white dress, her hair blowing in the wind, as she sings the song she wrote about Grandma and Grandpa in our old countryside refuge, Zafra, Oklahoma.

And then it’s my turn, playing a grand piano in a bay window overlooking the beautiful Nebraska farmland. The house is over 150 years old and was moved to this location and restored by the innkeeper and his wife. 

I love old houses. You can feel the age in them, like good wine: the memories in the walls, the whispers of a forgotten time that was just as real as ours today.

When the afternoon sun is streaming down the Western side of the sky, Where You’ve Always Been is finished, and we journey into Lincoln, Nebraska. Our very dear friends welcome us into their home, where they have cooked a feast of farm-fresh food for us. It is a much-needed respite from the work of the day, to talk and laugh and enjoy friendship. 

A bit of a shut-eye, a refreshing of makeup and hair (my poor hair…curled two to three times a day for two weeks only to be ravaged by the wind! alas…), and we were off to the uncut Nebraska Grasslands for shot two of the day, The Grass on the Prairie.

The chug-a-lug up the road––which is merely mown grass in a great expanse of virgin grasses––is a bumpy ride, but we do get up there, thanks to our good ole pickup trucks. Once there, the vista is breathtaking.

We are on a race with the sunset. The shimmering silver from the cloud overlay envelopes the green grass, sloping for miles in every direction. The grass is as tall as we are. Annie hurries into her silver evening gown, with a windswept chiffon bustle, and begins to shoot the beginning of the music video in the grass. It is surreal, a picture that one ought to only see in fairy tales, right there before your eyes. 

I change into my pearl-white gown, which was also my wedding dress, and will be immortalized in a prairie sweep with a grand piano from the 1800s (which also weighs 800 pounds and comes with a hydraulic lift…whew!).

I wrap a lace shawl with shimmering pink and blue flowers around me. I feel enchanted, standing in these clothes underneath the sun, playing an ancient piano in the grasslands.

And then crickets start to jump into my skirt. 

And then I realize I really need to relieve myself.

The only thing to do is to embrace my pioneer heritage and to drift off into the grass, away from the cameras and the drone overhead, as far as I can possibly go and still be able to breathe through my fear of rattlesnakes. I once heard of a woman who always wore dresses and never underwear so she could go whenever she wanted to.

Ewwww…

Ahem. After that I go join our friends, who have been a Godsend, helping us set up the scene and cart all of our things to and fro, bug-spray at hand. We watch Annie’s glorious moment, see the power of her performance, and talk about how incredible this whole experience is.

Then they tell me that there are mountain lions in Nebraska.

Planet Earth clips of golden lions crouching down in golden grass flit across my mind. I look around quickly. The dusk is obscuring any definition. I wish I had David Valentine’s childlike peace…when Audrey Jane got scared of mountain lions, David Valentine said, “Don’t worry, Audrey, this is nature! There aren't any lions in nature!” 

And then it’s time for the full group shot. We coalesce in the scene, the wind frolicking in our hair and our skirts, as Paul works the glide camera and the others work the drone. There is only an hour of sun left, but they work fast and creatively.

The sun is gone. We are in rivers of headlights in the grand darkness. We women change out of our evening gowns behind held-up sheets, as the the men tear down the set and get the piano back in the truck bed. We rumble down the road and make friends with the crickets hopping around the car.

Back at the Prairie Creek Inn, I talk with James in my comfortable little room, and am so tired that I black out three times in the midst of our conversation. The weariness finally gets the better of me, and I fall asleep, makeup and all. 

I hear that everyone else had a party in the barn, filming the third music video of the day, Choctaw Cowboy - the acoustic bluegrass piece from American Rhapsody that my sister Gretchen composed - until 2am, regaled by locally grown watermelon and our friends’ homemade chocolate chip cookies. Berklee at the BirchTreeMeadow.com captured this picture in the fun.

As all the Nebraska natives told me, Nebraska is the best-kept secret ever.