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How do you feel about summer?  Not the sweltering, where’s-the-next-air-conditioned-space summer, but perhaps the summers you remember from your past .  What about the summers that the song, “Summertime” bring to mind?  You know:  “Summertime,  and the living is easy…”  That kind of summer.  Think, for a minute, about the summers that included, perhaps, a beach, lazy surf, sandy towels, sand castles that were presented to the tide and, of course, seashells.  Is there a better occupation than strolling along an early morning beach, eyes downward, checking out the treasures the night tides have brought ashore?

You might have surmised by now that I am deep in beach reveries – and why not?  It’s summer, after all!  With Debussy’s beautiful melody in the recesses of my mind, I would like to share with you my very favorite beach reminiscence.

I was living in Brazil, a country whose coast is decorated with some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.  Specifically, I’m remembering the beaches closer to Sao Paulo than Rio, not the giddy revelry of Copacabana nor the bikini exhibitionists of Ipanema.  No, the beaches I’m thinking about have wonderful, silly names like Ubatuba.  There are no – or few – tourists and sometimes, no one at all.  The water is an unbelievable aquamarine (hence, the name of that gorgeous stone from Brazil) and it is just the right temperature for an utterly lazy summer float.  The sand is golden and, if you’re lucky, studded with sand dollars and little bright pink slipper shells.

So the stage is now set for the arrival of Blanca Stella.  Her family set up shop near my personal stretch of beach and soon, I heard Spanish being spoken – specifically Spanish with a distinctive Chilean accent.  As you know, Portuguese is the language of Brazil, so to hear Spanish on this rather remote Brazilian beach caught my notice.  Among the family members was a little girl, maybe four or five years old, who was called (often and sharply) Blanca Stella.  Now this is one of my very favorite names:  it means “white star” and the few people I’ve known who have carried it have been unfailingly interesting.  This little Blanca Stella was clearly a miscreant:   she didn’t want suntan lotion, she didn’t want a hat, she wanted only to get into that aquamarine water.  She flipped her long, black hair in an emphatic “NO!” when her mother suggested waiting a bit, and she was off like a shot, her father trudging through the sand in her wake.
Among the family members was a little girl, maybe four or five years old, who was called (often and sharply) Blanca Stella. Now this is one of my very favorite names: it means “white star” and the few people I’ve known who have carried it have been unfailingly interesting.

I went over to say hello to her mother.  I asked where they were from and, indeed, the answer was, “Chile.”  But she added that they were living in Brazil, owing to her husband’s military assignment.  Friends had told them about this wonderful beach on the kind edge of the Atlantic, and they decided to come see it.  Of course, Blanca Stella was very excited about a day at the beach.   It had been a long time since they’d been to a beach, and in Chile, the beaches tend to be very rocky and the water very cold.  So here they were – at “my” beach, but I was glad to share it with the family of beautiful, ecstatic Blanca Stella.

As the day settled into one of those bright, golden days that only happen on a Brazilian beach, picnics were eaten and everyone settles into a post-prandial languor of listening to the tide and watching the sea birds stitch the water.  Everyone, of course, except for Blanca Stella – and she wanted to run back to the water.  By now, her black hair was spangled with sand but she still resisted any attempt at a hat.  I offered to walk along the beach with her.  I was hoping we would see a little rivulet down the beach a way where I knew there was a colony of sand crabs.  I was thinking everyone likes to watch sand crabs as they scurry into their holes, then cautiously peek out, then ever so carefully emerge to grab a pebble or a bit of sand.  I think sand crabs are wonderful, but Blanca Stella lost interest at crab three or four.  So we headed back towards her family, but were stopped in our tracks by a conch shell that the tide had just brought in.  Still shining from the water, it was a rare jewel to find on this beach.

Blanca Stella lost interest at crab three or four.  So we headed back towards her family, but were stopped in our tracks by a conch shell that the tide had just brought in.

Of course, Blanca Stella ran over to it, picked it up fearlessly and asked, “Que es esto?” (What’s this?) I took it from her, checked it carefully for occupants, then held it to my ear. I said to Blanca Stella, “This is how you hear the sea.” Her dark eyes widened, partially in disbelief and partially in wonder, and she held out her hands to hold the treasure. She put it to her ear, and I asked her, “What do you hear?” After a moment of intense concentration, she sang to me what she heard.

“La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar…” and then she danced to her own music, the shell still clasped to her ear.

So here is a beach treasure for you. I hope you enjoyed Blanca Stella and her personal shell music as much as I did. And while on the subject of treasures, of course: have you sent in your subscription for the treasure of a stellar music season that’s on the horizon from the San Antonio Chamber Music Society? This is our 75th Anniversary season, you know, and it will sparkle like the shells and the beautiful water of Ubatuba.

– E Doyle

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