Monthly Archives: August 2021


To file under ‘who knew?’

My hair dresser of ten years died a few months ago. Of appendicitis. He was in his forties, fit, and much loved by friends, family and colleagues.

His sudden disappearance from Whatsapp was the first sign something was wrong. I had an appointment in two days and pinged him to confirm the time. No reply. On the day of the appointment I called the salon to double check the time. They said he had to have a minor unscheduled surgery and would be back soon. That was an odd answer. I called Brazilian bluff on that: the tendency to tell cheerfully optimistic stories in the face of grave situations. The more optimistic the people are, the worse the actual scenario, in my experience.

Brazilian optimism in the face of poor circumstances is well-expressed by this Whatsapp meme.

I worried for a few days, then called again to check in. Not to worry! He’d be back at work soon! Soon, what? Like a couple days? Who has unscheduled surgery that is minor? What could it be, a sudden toothache? An ingrown toenail? He fell down and needed stitches?

Still no noise on Whatsapp, which meant he couldn’t hold his phone. That wasn’t ‘minor.’

Then one day a photo came in on his Whatsapp: a photo of someone in a hospital (their face not in the picture) holding a sign encouraging blood donation. “Are you alive? What happened?” I wrote back, writing it in a half-teasing, half-serious tone. Nothing.

And then one morning I got a phone call from the lady who cuts my hair. That’s always bad news. Brazilians never phone me (at least) unless it’s an emergency of some sort. You can brace yourself just hearing the phone ring. Silvio had died. The conditions were unclear, but the funeral was scheduled for the next day.

Only later, after multiple versions of the story, did I find out what happened.

Apparently his brother had died of covid the week before he got sick, and he was quite worried about also getting covid and dying from it. He stayed home that week grieving his brother and also avoiding contact with people for worry of getting sick. So when he came down with some abdominal pain, and even when it escalated to fever and severe pain he didn’t leave the house to have it looked at. Only when it was so intolerable and his abdomen was reddened with infection did he finally go to the hospital. They did an emergency appendectomy but the infection had already spread and couldn’t be controlled by antibiotics. He died a week later.

I woke up sad thinking about him this morning, and out of curiosity looked up ‘deaths from appendicitis,’ since I’d never heard of anyone dying of it. Apparently a few dozen per year do, though.

Silvio showing off my sister’s lovely fresh hairdo.


I love the smell of country air. In the mountains in Brazil, in the drier zones, the smell is a wonderful ever-changing palette of pine, juniper, herbs and flowers. In the damper zones, such as around the city of Rio, the moist earth and heavy foliage have their own distinct smell, accompanied by seasonal wafts of flowers, fruit and rotting fruit, rain, and salt spray. One of the most startling is the smell of the flowers of the Cannonball tree. The prolific flowers grow directly from the trunk, enveloping the tree in garlands of pink. The flowers smell like roses, though without the delicate timidity of many (hybrid?) roses.

Fotokannan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


We were waiting by the stables for a rental horse ride in rural Brazil. When we arrived a competent looking man was leaving, and said our guide was running just a bit late. “Late like ten more minutes or half an hour?” I asked. “Oh, not half an hour. Maybe ten minutes!” I assumed he had a terrible sense of time and was also being optimistic and tripled the estimate.

About 20 minutes later a man stomped through the gate. He was broad-shouldered and neckless. As he climbed the short driveway he swung his clenched arms in the air and gave a couple of howling roars. I assumed he might be a non-verbal disabled man, perhaps a relative of someone who lived nearby. Once he reached us he stammered some not terribly coherent conversation. It took a few minutes to understand that this was our guide. We frowned at each other in great doubt, but sat patiently near the stables while he stomped around swearing (gently) and howling at the horses, who were not interested in being in a hurry.

By day two we had become accustomed to his alternating grunts, howls, roars and conversation. He appeared to be, after all, someone of fairly normal mental function and good intentions, and the odd noises were simply his enthusiastic expressions of frustration when any minor difficulty was met. He was also, perhaps, socially awkward and shy, and so he seemed much more normal by the end of the second day when we drew him out with friendly conversation about horses, the weather, the route, and so on: “What is this plant good for? Does it have fruit?” I asked. “It’s good for giving thorns,” he grumbled.

In any case, we soon decided he reminded us totally of Shrek. And once that image was in our minds we couldn’t shake it, so Shrek he will remain.