Autobiography & Memoir
It is winter in Kaleici, the old city of Antalya, southern Turkey. I came for the sun but got days of heavy rain instead!
The torrential rain reminded me of my arrival in Rio de Janeiro. I was inexperienced in organising travel arrangements. In 1970 there was no Booking.com and TripAdvisor to guide me. I had done no research on the city. I arrived in torrential rain. A single white woman. An innocent adventurer! The taxi driver took me to some downtown hotel and dumped me there. I had no idea where I was and knew no one, just a couple of names via other people en route from Argentina.
I knew I had to find a room. Anywhere! I had difficulty crossing the street to a kiosk with a travel agent of sorts out in the open. At least he had a telephone that was working. I had discovered there were more telephones than lines in Brazil. The rain lashed down and I shivered. I hardly spoke Portuguese via Spanish and Italian but the kind man understood my predicament. He saved me because he had a friend from British Guyana who spoke English and was lonely. He called her and asked if she could put me up.It worked out well. I kept her company as she was a recluse not having children or family. She had grown up in Freetown, the capital city and remembering her early childhood brought tears to her eyes. I slept on the sofa, it was uncomfortable but I didn't have any other options in those first two weeks in Rio until I picked up the phone and called Gerry, a number given to me by a male dancer at the Teatro Colon where I was the guest of Annemarie Steckelman, now the leading choreographer in BA today of the film 'Tango' fame.
After that via an introduction to the retired Royal Festival ballerina Berliner Gerry Maretzksk, I rented a bedroom in the flat belonging to her seamstress in Copacabana on the main road. Thus I embarked on a new chapter of my life. I was fortunate to befriend Gerry who at that time was 39 and in an iron corset to straighten her spine. She gave Salons because he had studied ballet and lived in Paris. So toute Rio and visiting people in the Arts would be welcome chez Gerry who would be stretched out on her sofa the poor dear. However her knowledge would lead to her creating her 'Corpo Analise' in Rio in 1980 and today at 86 she is still at the helm. Vive Les femmes!!!
I do have a vision of slender corseted Gerry searching her flat from top to toe. Gerry 'knew' that her estranged husband's Afro-Brazilian mistress had put a hex on her. She knew she must find the voodoo doll. Despite accompanying Gerry to an Candomble or Umbanda meeting somewhere in a poorer district of Rio but not in a favela where I saw everyone dressed in white with the hypnotic Mae De Santa, I just could not believe this educated woman would be crawling on the floor hunting for the evidence. Finally after days of looking, she found the doll with a black primitive nail stuck through the heart. It was under the carpet going up the stairs shoved behind the carpet rods. I saw it with my own eyes. I never knew what became of it. Gerry recovered of course and went from strength to strength but I lost touch with her even though she came with the dancer Flavia Barros from Recife to visit me in London. The ballet connections beginning in Buenos Aires, Rio and Recife, eventually led to Paris, a story for another vignette which started in London.
Months later, after living in the exotic Afro Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia for three months, I returned to Rio before I went back to London and stayed in the house of the Irish Brazilian antique dealer Rosanne Sommers, one of Rio's characters, in the famous Largo do Boticario, Cosme Velho, a beautiful Neo-Colonial small square high up on a hill.
Rosanne was estranged from her British husband John and had a French lover with money who paid for her son"s private education. I was invited to stay a week before I left. I didn't get on too well with Henri but did with John who seemed to live there too but had problems with his legs so he stayed in bed. I recall sitting next to him having a chat when in walked Rosanne with a client as the bed was for sale!
Three days before I was due to leave, I had my case left open with my clothes and especially my favourite Chico Buaque da Hollanda LPs on top of a low table. It was so hot that I had gone to bed, as usual naked. Suddenly I awoke in the middle of the night and realised the bed was floating! Torrential rain was cascading from the ceiling into my room and was high enough to make the iron bedstead float. I was shivering and didn't know what to do. Water was flowing outside on the first floor landing down the stairs. Rosanne's bedroom door was open and I saw her fast asleep entwined with Henri in bed naked. Obviously I didn't want to disturb them from their slumber so I retreated shivering back to my floating bed and had a sleepless night. All my clothes and record covers were drenched and the next morning Rosanne had to put the heating on so I could dry my clothes for the journey. I recall my LP covers were all crumpled. Rosanne had a good heart and knew people from travellers, like myself, to ambassadors. I also had first hand information from my best friend Barbara, that she had hidden her politically involved English boyfriend in the house before he was smuggled back to the UK.
I read the next day that Cosme Velho had been underwater and the hill had become a river washing parked cars away down the hill.
A few months later, back in London, I received a sad letter from Barbara telling me that Rosanne had been murdered by the Secret Police. She had been found naked in her bath with the taps still running and water cascading down the stairs. Barbara had gone to the house to pick up some books and found the whole square cordoned off and surrounded by police. When she asked what had happened, she was told to quickly get her books and ask no questions. We will never know the true story but it certainly was not the official version of suicide.
Rain was to come into my life five years later. I was in a village somewhere in Mexico sitting by the fountain in the main square when two English backpackers turned up to chat. The usual questions like where do you live, what do you do. When I said I lived in West Hampstead, the young man said what a shame it was that West End Green had been under water due to the torrential rain.
I knew immediately that that would affect my possessions in the coal bunker lockup where I had left textiles from Poland and clothes because I had rented out my flat for a year. i wrote to my mother and asked her to call my next door neighbour to confirm my fears. Yes it had happened several months earlier and there had been a lot of insurance claims including the poor woman in the basement flat who had to be rehoused.
Months later I returned but the water had of course evaporated leaving a decaying smell in my bunker. Textiles from Poland and leather items including a coveted Cangaciero hat from Brazil had been ruined. The insurance company haggled, the broker disappeared after telling me to get rid of everything. I never thought to take photos of the damage. I was innocent of such things. They paid up some small amount of money but the joke was I found out later that I should have received nothing because the coal cellar was not in the deeds of the flat i had bought!
Written in Kaleici, Antalya, Turkey - February 2015.