Retired American woman from the Pacific Northwest living between Seattle and Brazil: Traveling the world and learning how to live and age gracefully...share my thoughts and stories from a lifetime of exercising and preparing fresh food while I become a full time writer and fluent in Portuguese. Plus together we can experience the incredible culture and landscape, the rivers and beaches in beautiful Brazil, Puget Sound and wherever else I go.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Retirement Bumps and Living in Brazil
There are certain things that are quintessentially Brazilian
for me. Monday morning I woke up to one
of them. It was the smell and the faint
haze on the horizon of burning sugar cane.
Perhaps this smell is rare nowadays since the practice is
being phased out to avoid air pollution impacts. But there it was. It took me back.
The smell of burning sugar cane evokes living in Brazil more
than 25 years ago when I was pregnant with our second child and playing in the
yard with our then 2-year-old son – splashing water at each other in the
afternoon heat and wondering what that faint scent was. I knew I had never smelled it before. Later I found out it was the smell of burning
the sugar fields before harvest.
My memory was tinged with feelings of sadness and
happiness…nostalgia for times gone by when my son was just a little boy but
happiness for the fun we had and the strong friendships we made all those years
ago. Now our son is a grown and very
capable married man and our Brazilian friendships are stronger than ever.
The past week has been a series of good and difficult times
for me. Sort of like the memory of the
sugar cane smell. Periods of feeling at a loss as to how to handle the day, followed by having a wonderful
time re-connecting with some long term friends at a family
wedding (theirs not mine!) this past weekend.
Curiously my two different emotions are inextricably mixed together –
reminiscent of finding that at one moment you are laughing and then, at the next, crying. There is a Brazilian word –
saudade that doesn’t really have a perfect translation into English. It isn't just nostalgia. It is neither happiness nor
sadness alone. It is both emotions tied
together in a memory, a longing for things past and present. The week was full of saudade - or at least, what I, as a non-Brazilian believe saudade to be.
I chose two transitions all at once – retirement from a very
busy and fulfilling career and moving to Brazil – for three months this year
and more in the future. Many of my American
friends and family were jealous. Wow
they said. You are so lucky. And realistically that is true. But there are days when I miss autumn in the
Pacific Northwest – the end of season roses and tomatoes in my Seattle garden; Indian summer weather and pumpkin
patches in the Skagit; pulling on a favorite sweater and digging warm socks out
of the bottom of my sock drawer. I miss picking Washington apples and making a perfect apple pie.
my adopted Brazilian town but being newly retired and being even a short-term
expat can have its ups and downs. So how did I make it through the hardest day of the week –
Friday? Well I definitely started out
with a big café com leite. Actually two.
I put on a pair of sandals and walked
down the street to the nearest manicure/pedicure shop. After having a relaxing mani/pedi, which I
was sorely in need of (I had a wedding to go to after all…), I went to the
local padaria (bakery), bought two lovely whole-wheat rolls and some buffalo
mozzarella cheese. Back at home I made
myself a cheese and tomato sandwich. How
bad can life be if fresh rolls, buffalo mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and salt
can all be combined together? Not too
I knew I needed to get some exercise. Endorphins are amazing creatures and getting
them moving through your body can do wonders to cheer up even the darkest
day. We had borrowed a mountain bike
from a friend when we first arrived. My
husband had taken it to a local bike shop for service. It was time to pick it up.
Biking in Piracicaba, in fact in any city in Brazil, is
SCARY. The streets are narrow and full
of ruts and potholes; surprisingly big fast cars tend to dominate. I put on my bike helmet and gloves and rode
carefully on quiet side streets to the university campus. Perfect. Wide boulevards. Little traffic. Gorgeous vistas. It was Friday
afternoon. I rode around the whole
campus. It was hot but lovely. Students were relaxing on the lawns. The sun was shining. People were out strolling.
The ESALQ Campus
I was on my second circuit when a campus policeman pulled me
over. This was not terribly difficult
since he was on a motorcycle and I was on an old mountain bike. It turned out that there is a rule on the
campus that no one can ride bikes except students who are going from one class
to another. I was flabbergasted. Using my best Portuguese I told the policeman
that I was a foreigner and my husband was a visiting professor and I did not
know this rule. He was clearly
embarrassed and so was his cohort who had arrived soon thereafter. The second policeman was also on
Now I am a less than 120-pound 60-something woman. I was on a 20-year-old Trek mountain
bike. I had on my helmet. Clearly I could be dangerous. So I was reassured to see that they sent two
pretty large cops on big motorcycles out to get me. And by the way, they caught up with me right
beside the entomology building. It is a
quiet corner of the campus where the mounted police likely thought they could
subdue me without witnesses if I protested when they told me I was breaking the
rules and needed to leave immediately.
The Offending Trek
In the end of course, I acquiesced. I told them I would leave the campus. Without making more trouble. But of course I had no idea of the shortest
route off campus so I had to ride around a bit more to figure that out. Now the Trek is waiting in my spare room
while we negotiate the university bureaucracy and get permission for me
to ride on campus.
There are a few things that retirement and living abroad
share and these are not necessarily all good.
The good things are obvious – time; living in a (hopefully) new and
interesting land; the opportunity to immerse oneself in a new culture, its food
and music, and, in my case, given our history in Brazil, re-connect with long
term friends. But what about the bad
things? These are the inverse, and
perhaps less obvious until you are in it – too much time; a somewhat unfamiliar
place; language barriers, often feeling like a stranger and being overly
dependent on my Brazilian friends. Ahh
yes it’s the yin and yang of life. How
is it that every silver lining has a cloud?
I was on the cloudy side much of last week. But by dint of continuing with my program –
studying my Portuguese; working on my writing; going to the gym and exercising;
cooking healthy food – I seem to have rebounded. Of course all of these emotions could have happened in Seattle. There is something that I think
is super important. Whatever you are
doing, wherever you are, have a program even if very basic. And stick to it in moments of doubt. Do the laundry. Sweep the floor. Get some exercise. Eat healthy food. Go to work (or if you are retired like me
take up one or more activities that use your mind and that you more or less
enjoy – for me this is learning Portuguese and writing stories). The blues will dissipate.