The English Bird
Lady of Rio de Janeiro
One of my
favourite relatives was fat Auntie Tessie from
Leeds. She had a heavy Yorkshire accent and was
always full of beans compared to her miserable
old git of a doctor husband Abe Goodman. Two
brothers from Leeds, both doctors, had
married two sisters from Leeds. How and why
they ended up in Liverpool I know not. Uncle Max
was always in my life because he was our family
doctor. Tessie and Abe loved to cruise. Not the
done thing in the 1960s so it must have cost them
an arm and a leg!! On one of the Mediterranean
cruises they teamed up with another English
couple from God knows where, the husband also
being a doctor. They would meet again and again
on the liners over the years as they had become
lifelong friends. But this couple didn't
live in the UK. Of all places they lived in far
away Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In the 1960s I
saw a Hollywood movie where the opening shot was
Corcovado with the statue of Christ. I saw the
famed Sugar Loaf mountain and announced to
whoever was my companion that I would one day go
to magical exotic Rio de Janeiro. I always end up
in life where I say I am going sooner or later.
In 1968 I was
working as a travel agent for Global Tours, the
third largest tour operator in the UK at the time.
I had been to Lisbon for a week as a perk and
loved the city and especially the language. The
Portuguese describe Brazilian Portuguese as
Portuguese with sugar. I must have heard the
sounds of the Bossa Nova there and especially the
famous 1964 song by Jobim - The Girl from Ipanema.
By the time I got back to London my mind was made
up. I was going to emigrate to Brazil!
No contacts at that point. No guide books except
the American bible - Frommer's guide to South
America on $5 a day. I immediately enrolled at
the Casa do Brasil in Lancaster Gate, under the
auspices of the Brazilian Embassy and began my
language lessons. Next came the Anglo Brazilian
Society in London and their snobby meetings in
Canning House, Belgravia, London for connections
I was on my
way. The cost to Rio, the city of my musical
dreams, was £450 return in 1968. Imagine!!! A
fortune but I knew that if I stayed in my job for
two years, I would only have to pay 10% of the
fare. I plotted and planned. Auntie Tessie came
up trumps with the name and address of her friend
who had unfortunately been widowed by then.
In 1970 I
arrived in Rio in a rain storm without
accommodation or any planning in advance and
ended up on the couch of a lovely British Guinean
woman who was lonely and needed my friendship. I
stayed with her a week and got to work on my
I was eager to
meet the elusive Madame X. I was expected as my
aunt must have written and arranged the meeting.
I recall taking a taxi to an exclusive district
high above the city, up a winding hill. The large
house was surrounded by high walls and I had to
pull at a bell cord which made a loud resounding
ding dong. I waited. The taxi left. I was all
alone on a hilltop holding a bell cord
apprehensively. Then the sound of barking and
chains and bolts. The lady had imprisoned herself,
locked out the outside world and become a recluse!
She greeted me
dressed in flowing long white robes surrounded by
several small yapping dogs and a couple of cats
who had come to check out the guest from overseas.
Her white hair was neatly pinned up in a bun. She
looked like an angel without wings and exuded a
spiritual calmness that you could immediately
It was time
for tea she announced but first I had to see her
aviary. I don't recall a garden, I just remember
lush green architectural plants, swaying palms in
the gentle breese with white blossom everywhere.
We walked into a large enclosed mesh area full of
colourful birds of all sizes. Perhaps 50, making
a cacophony of bird songs. Blue and yellow Macaws,
red and lime green parrots and exotic colourful
birds with unpronounceable names perched on
branches carefully arranged inside one large cage.
Madame X engaged not one but two men just
to care for the loves of her life. Her birds. Her
children. Each bird had a name and she proudly
addressed each bird as if she was introducing me.
What a memory she had. Her mind was as clear as a
bell. She smiled lovingly at each Spirit. She saw
their souls and was enchanted. All these
introductions took a long while. Then I was
introduced to her two faithful outdoor retainers
all in fluent Portuguese naturally.
inside to the cool of her salon where we were met
by another faithful retainer dressed in a white
tunic and wearing white gloves. Black and white
the exotic colours of mixed blood Brazil. His job
was to serve the afternoon tea with slices of
lemon a la Russe poured from a large silver
teapot. Plates of thinly sliced cucumber
sandwiches without their crusts were offered plus
delicious home baked biscuits. I could have been
in a stately home back in England. The tea was
drunk with the tea strainer in bone Coleport
china teacups and saucers bien sur!
She was indeed
not in our world and spoke about how she
contacted the spirit of her departed husband when
they 'spoke' every evening. She never saw anyone
as she had retreated from the outside world. I
was the exception because she adored my Auntie
Tessie as I did too. She explained she had become
a Born Again Christian and was a devote believer
with her own private chapel with stained glass
windows inside the house.
The light was
failing and so perfumed candles were lit by the
man in white. There was no twilight. It was
day or night in Rio. The dogs wandered in to say
woof woof as it was feeding time. I began
to make woofy sounds to them as I had learned how
to 'speak' to my beagle Samson in Liverpool. Ears
up, the dogs began to whine. First the birds and
now the dogs. I was in cuckoo land.
Time to go
back down the hill, back to the sands and waves
of Ipanema. I never saw or heard from Madame X
in Athens, Monistiraki in September 2015.