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.

Terror on the Sugarloaf

“I want to get away from the tourist-y part!” I whisper, grabbing James’s arm. We are standing on the Sugarloaf mountain.

“I agree. These shops are all the same.”

“Let’s go back to that rope bridge with the fruit growing in barley fiber pockets on the trees. I want to see nature. I mean, gosh, we are in the tropics!”

We walk back to the bridge from the platform where everyone is looking at the immense view, smoke from a burning building smudging the sky. The bridge stretches into the woods, bordered by great tropical trees with dark waxy leaves. Men hover, spraying water onto the rare flowers growing in barley planters along the tree trunks.

“Now this is fun!” I say, looking over the edge of the bridge.

We emerge from the forest and find ourselves in a deserted corner of the mountain. A few men stand around, repairing parts of the sidewalk. There are stairs with a rope cutting them off from access.

“That’s the way down to the forest,” James says.

I move forward, lift the rope, and start down.

“That is off limits,” a worker says.

“Oh really? Why?”

“No going down there,” he reiterates in broken English.

“Oh, ok." I wait till his back is turned and then walk down the stairs, pulling James after me.

A path thru a beautiful forest and an opening onto a balcony overlooking the city. I lean over the balcony rail.

James hugs me from behind, kisses my head. “Look at that,” he says.

We soak the beauty in, the little terracotta roofs, the quirky favelas nestled in emerald green hills, the great sea beyond. The Christ statue stands on a mountain opposite, looking over Rio de Janeiro. 

I make a video blog, trying to document the view. We take a picture or two.

Then we see the birds.

“Look at those buzzards! There must be something dead.”

The black birds dance against the blue sky.

“Those are crows, honey. Buzzards circle, they don't swarm.”

“Oh my gosh, they’re coming this way!”

We watch as the black cloud of birds flies towards us. One bird breaks away, flying at breakneck speed in our direction. I watch in disbelief, waiting for it to veer away, but it doesn’t. I scream as it swoops low over our heads. I can feel the wind of the wings. The rest of the birds are close at hand.

“Run!” I scream to James.

I dash back to the woodland path, my iPhone shaky-cam-ing with me. A grey wing flaps above my head. “HURRY!” I yell.

“Honey, those are bats!” James says.

“BATS!!!”

I open the umbrella, running like a penguin, aware of how dumb I look even in the midst of my fear. Another one swoops and the vision of one getting caught under the umbrella and then locking it's teeth in my eyes makes me try to shut the umbrella again.

Then I am out of the forest. Back at the shops. Out of breath. James behind me, cool as a cucumber.

“I need WATER!” I gasp.

“Let me get you some, honey,” James says. Awwww…

I write a Facebook status to celebrate the adventure. You know, because that’s what you do in the 21st century.

Then my sister comments, “Do you know bats have rabies?”

And James just chuckles as the blood drains from my face and I guzzle his water bottle.

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.

OCTOBERS

Sometimes there are periods of life where you walk around in the present and you feel the past with you, at your back. 

This autumn I can’t stop thinking about how last autumn I was newly engaged, spending these four months of the busiest time of our year planning for my wedding day and my honeymoon.

That fall was full of calls to venues, culinary plans, finding dresses, pre-marriage counseling, traveling, red beret hats and wool scarves, leather gloves and long coats, crimson leaves and hot chocolate in the Smoky Mountains.

A year later, after an Italian honeymoon, a blizzard, a busy spring, a crazier summer, and a full cross-country trip, I am again traveling in the vivid paint splashes of dying leaves, this time with my husband beside me. 

I love traveling North in this season. I love Starbucks hot chocolates, fuzzy blankets in the car, hoodies and sweatpants, the panoply of fire-red and purple and canary-yellow flying by the car window. Tennessee is lovely, but the fact of the matter is that its Autumn and Winter pales to the glorious color-ridden climes and then the frosty wonderlands of the north country.

One iconic day this October, we find ourselves in the lovely town of Madison, Wisconsin, performing in a theater in the nearby city of Edgerton. A morning free, and James, my sister Annie, her two children David and Vincenza, and I are off to enjoy a few hours in the most enchanting autumn day I have experienced this year. Blue skies, brisk winds, trees effervescent in the colors of fire, and the lovely downtown of the Wisconsin capital.

After a delicious breakfast of farm-to-table crepes and pour over Ethiopian coffee, we set off to explore the day. Annie and her children enjoy the lovely children’s museum, complete with a fairy-tale porch garden.

James and I enjoy the beautiful farmer’s market in the shadows of the Capitol building.

Among the tables and tables of honey and flowers and vegetables and apples and Wisconsin cheeses, I find a magical cornucopia of everlasting bouquets, scarlet pumpkins, dried maize cobs, pussy-willow and fern.

It is all arranged delicately, atop barrels and baskets or piled enticingly. An autumnal paradise. All grown by an elderly woman who gardens, hangs the plants to dry and then arranges them with twine.

Whenever I see such enchantments, I am inspired. My mind’s eye sees the day, one day, when my husband and I and our seven children will have our own pastoral wonderland. 

And my husband and my boys will till the soil and weed the garden, of course. Why else have all those kids? ; )

Since James and I are a pair of hobbits stuck in human bodies (when we don't feel like being elves), after very little walking and exploring, with two little brown paper packages tied up with string and our artisan coffees, we find a quiet nook to read our books underneath a great flaming tree that blocks us from the chilly sweet-scented autumn wind. 

Because sitting together, reading our books, and drinking coffee on beautiful autumn days is quite our favorite thing to do.

North & East

We are traveling North through green farmlands and New England woods. Ironically, we are passing through some of the same places that the Pope will visit, one or two days in front of him. Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia.

immaculateconception.jpg

After three concerts we come to rest in Connecticut. We stay with friends from the three years that we lived in New Milford. It is a delightful reunion. My friend Bradleigh and I have been best friends since we met at a church flea market as children and connected over our love of antiques and Anne of Green Gables. Someday I will write a children’s series all about our New Milford adventures, exploring old houses, gathering acorns, discovering elf kingdoms in the woods. 

My sister, my husband, and I all enjoy the happiness of staying with Bradleigh and her family––including her new adorable Adaline baby––in her quaint white house surrounded by a New England forest, cleared of brushes and brambles, with quietly rustling leaf floors.

We spend all of Monday drinking coffee, hiking through the nature preserve down the road, writing and reading each other’s writing in a grass meadow while Gretchen plays guitar, walking to the post office and farmer’s market, and ending the evening with bourbon cream local peaches and Far From the Madding Crowd

The next day we awake early to drive into New York City. It is a different reality. One second we are in New York farmland, the next minute we are passing the Trump skyscrapers.

As I sit looking out the window, I am reminded of playing Monopoly. It’s commerce and capitalism and corruption and opportunity and opulence represented in a million people and a million buildings stuck on an island scarcely the land mass of my home town.

There’s something exciting and exhausting about it. Rather magical. We spend the morning in meetings with our team, planning the future, seeing bright possibility and the months ahead spooled out on paper and colored with imagination. We see the first music video from the Western Odyssey trip played in the Warner Classics office.

Then our Uber app makes a car appear and we are in The Cutting Room, where we perform that evening. Afterwards, exhilarated and hungry, my husband gets me a delicious grilled cheese sandwich from a local New York cheese paradise.

In the background of all this adventure is a deep sadness, because through all the business of our schedule, we get news from home that our grandmother, Dorothy, is very sick. She has lived in our house for three or four years now and we love her dearly. Zoe, our new little sister, was downstairs with her when Dorothy suddenly fell backwards from her walker. Her equilibrium was so impaired that my mother had to get the help of a neighbor to get her up and to the hospital.

All throughout the day we hear text updates back home in the South that describe a very bleak situation. It is deeply sorrowful to me. Grandma Dorothy is a mainstay of life: a quiet, simple, kind woman. Her room downstairs is always cool and peaceful, a bubble of tranquil organization inside the hustle and bustle of daily life. I feel especial pain for my new little sister, whom Grandma Dorothy helped to adopt and has taught to read and write and play piano. They have a very special bond. 

The next day the news is still bad. We come into the City again from Connecticut and stop there on our way to Philadelphia for other meetings. My father flies home to be with his mother. My heart aches that we can't all go home. The little ones are all around us, crazy in the craziness of the City, and it strikes me how little Evangeline is just beginning to stand up and learn how to walk, and now my grandmother cannot stand or walk. 

James and I stop in St. Patrick's Cathedral to pray for my grandmother. Kneeling in that space, I marvel at life. Why does our heart beat? Why do we know to breathe when the umbilical cord is cut? How are we built so uniquely? How does a sperm and an egg connect and a woman’s womb fosters a new life with personality and dreams and thoughts that will one day foster new life that fosters new life?

Update: I am very happy to say that my grandmother Dorothy made a miraculous recovery a few days after this post was published, and is now out of intensive care and on her way to complete health.