Brian Williams got me watching evening news again. For years he had struck me as just one of a number of interchangeable news readers, but then I saw him on Saturday Night Live and discovered that he was funny, and an excellent mimic.
So I started watching him on weekday evenings. I didn't expect him to be the king of comedy, but neither did I expect him to be the prophet of doom.
When Ebola appeared in the U.S., Williams had me fearing for my life. His dire, urgent tone made it seem as if it were only a matter of time before the virus spread to every corner of the country. Soon after, severe winter storms pounded New England and Williams’ harrowing reports on them had me scared to go outside – and I live in Florida. Every week there seemed to be some new threat that he couldn’t wait to dangle over our heads.
So I was not at all surprised when the news broke that he had embellished stories of his personal escapades. He had shamelessly sensationalized the news; why shouldn’t he shamelessly sensationalize his life? As he steps down as anchor, but stays on at NBC, one wonders if he brought this point up in talks with his bosses, who had surely encouraged him in the first offense.
Caipirinhas were flowing at the Coral Gables Museum last night as my friend Ben Batchelder presented his new book, To Belem and Back. A few years ago Ben drove with his black Lab from Tiradentes, where he lives part of the year, to Belem, the port city in the north, and then returned home along the coast, covering over 10,000 miles in a journey that, as he said last night, was the equivalent of driving back and forth across the United States twice.
Ben self-published the book, deciding early on that he didn't want to go the traditional route (taking the same approach to publishing that he had to travel). Qualitywise, the book would have been well received by publishers; it's unclear however, with the industry's current parochialism, whether anyone would have eagerly taken on a book about a Brazilian road trip. It's the kind of book that would have easily found a home in the 80s, but today Americans are more interested in memoirs. The citizens of the country with the most influence in the world have unfortunately, if not disastrously, turned their backs to the world.
But a good crowd came out last night to hear Ben read and talk about Brazil. (The event was sponsored by the Council of the Americas.) Afterwards, waiting in line for a book, I asked two women if they were Brazilian. "No," Anat said, "we're fans of Brazil." We formed an immediate Brazilian Admiration Society.
Later, I talked to a woman from Wales, now living in Hollywood, who had never been to Brazil and wondered what was so special about the country. I told her of my visit a few years ago to Ouro Preto. My friend arrived by bus from Sao Paulo and I walked her to her pension, where the owner answered the door, a woman who looked to be about 15 years older than Lilian. Within minutes the two women were chatting, laughing, warmly touching each other.
"So you know her?" I asked Lilian when the woman had gone for the key. "You've stayed here before?"
"No," Lilian said. "We've never met."
The two women - innkeeper and guest - had instantly gotten beyond the business relationship and interacted with each other as one human being to another. More than that - like friend with friend. And because I'd seen this only in Brazil, it struck me as uniquely Brazilian.
I attended my first Marlins game of the season yesterday, sitting with two men - one a friend of a friend - who are on a years' long pilgrimage to every major league ballpark. They wisely chose the first base side, with a view of the city (through the large windows under the rarely retracted roof). I filled them in on the park's various attributes: the artwork (noting that the Roy Lichtenstein painting of The Manager was the only Loria manager safe from being fired); the Clevelander (quoting the one visiting player who said: "That's not a ballpark - it's a nightclub with a stadium around it."); the scoreboard in left field that Giancarlo Stanton damaged with a home run ball last year, and Red Grooms' whimsical home run sculpture that, unfortunately, we didn't see activated.
Ed gave the place high marks; Harry asked me, during one slow inning, if I were a player what my walk-up song would be. He caught me totally unprepared.
After the game - Rockies 4, Marlins 1 - Harry and Ed headed to the airport while I drove to Calle Ocho. I stopped at the Colon Market to buy two bottles of El Gaitero cider from Asturias, watched the men playing dominoes in Dominoes Park, checked the movie posters at the Tower Theater and wandered into Ball & Chain hoping to see the young jazz singer in the long slit skirt performing in the courtyard. In place of her was a Latin blues band.
I headed downtown for evensong at Trinity Cathedral. The Anglican Chorale sang, ending with a piece by Thomas Tallis. On the drive home I listened on the radio to "Cafe Brasil" and came up with my walk-up song: Aguas de Marco.