January 14, 2009

How to woo a Mayor

I just realized I never posted an update on what happened at our lunch with the mayor.

The village of Ibitipoca and our land falls under the municipality of a somewhat larger town called Lima Duarte. It has about 15000 residents and its income is mostly based on the local dairy production and tourism dollars from the park. The current mayor is a former dairy farmer.

Our sitío (little farm) is one valley over from the park and the locals call it the "buraco" or the hole because once you go down into it, you might not get out. This has been the main stumbling block in trying to get our house finished. No one will deliver materials during the rainy season for fear of getting stuck in the mud down in "the hole." Frequently we have driven down and later in the afternoon, upon seen the clouds gathering, made a mad dash to get the car back up to the ridge before the rain starts.

We have four neighbors in the valley. But only one of them has built a house. One guy is a local who keeps a few scrawny cows and occasionally plants beans. He lives in the village. Another is a high school friend of C's older brother. He has some kind of hair brain scheme to plant olive trees and start an olive oil empire. A third is a business woman who lives in São Paulo. We've never met her and assume she bought her land for investment purposes. And then there is our other neighbor - I'll call him D'Artist.

D'Arist is ... an artist (surprise, surprise). He's half Greek, born in Brazil, and has Swiss citizenship where he spends a lot of time selling his paintings. He's married to his second wife, who I'll call Dri, who is a local and a good deal younger than him. (I think the story goes, that he met her when she was still a teenager, sitting behind the cash register at her parents bar in Lima Duarte. The bar had one of the only good public phones in town and he used to come in to use it.)

Over thirty years ago he bought a huge swath of land for peanuts at the far end of the valley on the border with the park. This was right at the time the park was being incorporated and the village and locals were abjectly poor and willing to work for very little money. ( Now that they are flush with tourism dollars and see how much sweat and labor they practically gave away in those poor days, D'Artist holds a mixed reputation among them.) He managed to build his house by hiring a small army of people and having them pack in cement, bricks and building materials on foot and by mule. Over the years, he's build a very lovely spot with two houses and a couple of extra rooms he rents out like a B&B.

sitio hortensias

(Oh, in full disclosure, all those pictures in that earlier yarn about João Bobo and Maria Chiquita wanting to be farmers, etc., were taken at his place. We're still years away from a fogão à lenha...)

D'Artist is a full on character. Dri likes to say that when he is there it's like having four people and not just one. And she's right. He's big and booming and switches between Portuguese, French and English and doesn't slow down for a second.


That's his dog, Orion.

So anyway, we've been trying to figure out how to pool our resources to get our road fixed so we aren't held prisoner by it any more. Mr. Olive Farm is in on it with us, but local cow guy is too poor to help and no one has ever heard squat from São Paulo lady. Someone finally had the idea to invite the mayor for lunch.

And that's what happened last weekend. Dri cooked up a big Middle Eastern lunch and we brought wine and dessert. The mayor and his deputy said they'd be arriving at 10am and we all secretly prayed for rain so that he'd get stuck and see we weren't just whining for no reason. C and I hauled butt out of bed early in JF and made the 2 hour drive up, so that we could be there on time. Of course the mayor did NOT show up at 10am. But that didn't stop D'Artist from launching into a celebratory mood and popping open a bottle of French champagne. We finished it off by 11am and the mayor still hadn't arrived so we all figured, well crap, maybe he's not going to show after all, what the hay, let's open another bottle!

A half hour later, when we heard the mayor's car making it's way down into the valley, we were all thoroughly schnockered and had started snacking on lunch with our fingers, right out of the pans. Dri (who's apparently a bit of a light weight) quickly downed three large glasses of water (which didn't do much to sober her up but did force her to have to get up to pee every ten minutes during lunch) and scooped up our mess and shoved it in the closet. I tried to shoo C and D'Artist outside to take the mayor on a walk around the grounds (and to get them to walk off some of the sauce) but D'Artist was just getting rolling. He inaugurated another bottle and started pouring and toasting all around. Dri was starting to look a little green at one point but we finally did manage to get the men to take a walk around so we could get the table organized and lunch served.

Over lunch he uncorked not one but two bottles of French wine, followed by our three Chileans and followed that up with cognac and port. The mayor made weak protests at each pour which D'Artist plowed right over. But I guess there was a method to the madness because by the time the mayor stumbled out, thoroughly bombed, hugging and backslapping everyone, we had him promising all kinds of things. He apparently had a great time.

Now, not only is he now going to widen the road and dig drainage ditches, but he is going to give us the labor and equipment to pave the worst parts of it. (We will be responsible for the actual paving materials - the mayor had suggested that we use the free the residual from a local asphalt plant, but we vetoed in because it's toxic.) He also looked at the unusable road we plowed on our sitío up to the top of the hill and he said that he would include that in the project and fix it!

But even better, we also got him to pull some strings and bump our name up the waiting list to get electricity! This is huge. We've been waiting for nearly 3 years for this government program "Luz para Todos" to get around to wiring us up. Monday morning we already had a phone call from the electric company confirming all of our details.

I guess the mayor's hangover wasn't too bad to remember his promises. Could it really be?

All this was helped by the fact that D'Artist is in a protracted legal battle with a very rich and powerful man who has overtaken a very pretty part of his land and claimed it as his own. The mayor isn't a big fan of this rich guy and has butted heads with him on several occasions. So part of his helping us out is due to us being on the right side of the political fence. Score two for the little guy!

Now we just have to hold our breath until March (alleged end of the rainy-season) and see if the tractors actually show up and start to plow.


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