29 December 2011

New Year's Eve in Brazil

I always romanticized the idea of spending New Year's Eve in Rio. I had only the vaguest notion of how Brazilians celebrated, something about dressing all in white, gathering at the beach and tossing flowers into the ocean in honor of somebody or other. Just thinking about it gave me a feeling of tranquility and peace. I wanted to join those celebrants, and I wanted to join them on Copacabana beach. Then I of course realized how allergic to crowds I am and how two million or more people might be a bit more than I could take. I began to understand that any "tranquility and peace" I might feel would be shattered by the six enormous sound stages that are set up along Copacabana beach, each stage dedicated to a particular musical style, none of them mine. It was without regret that early on I put the idea of "New Year's Eve in Rio" to rest.

So that left New Year's Eve in Búzios which, as it turns out, isn't too shabby. Our house is positioned in such a way that we can watch six or seven different fireworks displays going on all at once around our bay, including a spectacular private show put on by the owner of Cirque du Soleil, whose house is two or three to the right of ours. We wanted to share that remarkable advantage with friends, so Mark and I began a tradition of giving New Year's Eve parties. We've given five in all, with each year's turnout growing exponentially from that of the preceding year. Unfortunately, it's gotten to be too much to handle, so I think we've come to the end of our tradition. Besides the growing number of guests who — in the spirit of good will and holiday cheer — often brought friends, friends of friends and various hangers-on, there's the little problem of electricity. I mentioned in my post of this past Monday that the population of Búzios can swell to as many as 200,000 people during the holidays. Well, in order to prepare for their various celebrations, all of these 200,000 people go to their rooms and turn on their air conditioning and their hair dryers all at the same time. The electric company cannot sustain the surge. It's a rare year that we don't lose electricity, and one year I remember it not returning until the next day. Can't hear the doorbell. Can't play music. Can't turn on the stove. Can't see the way down the stairs. Can't have a party.

We don't yet know what we're going to do this year. People have been calling and feeling us out, but Brazilians like to make their plans at the last minute, so nobody's committing. One option is that we'll try some of the Brazilian traditions we've never tried before all by ourselves. Maybe at midnight we'll go down to our beach and "jump the seven waves" on our right foot, to invoke the powers of Iemanjá, goddess of the sea, so she can give us strength to face the coming year. Or maybe we'll eat the various foods you're supposed to eat at the stroke of midnight. Some say you're supposed to eat 12 grapes, one for each month, and try to internalize health, peace, love, harmony and prosperity. Others say it's pomegranate, cut in seven pieces, which you eat while holding seven seeds in your teeth. After that you wrap the seeds in white paper and keep them in your wallet all year. They say money just pours in if you do that. We've been told to eat pork for prosperity, lentils for money and walnuts to guarantee wealth and prosperity. (I see a theme here.)

Whatever we decide, it will include good food, good drink, and lots of flashlight batteries and candles. We'll probably dress in white, that's a tradition we've come to like. And if we have electricity, we'll get our annual kick from our "Guy Lombardo & his Royal Canadians — Live at the Waldorf Astoria" New Year's Eve CD. Speaking of which, here's Mr. Auld Lang Syne himself, wishing us all his last Happy New Year:

26 December 2011

High Season

Leaving Rio in droves...
High Season starts today. From now until Ash Wednesday next year upwards of 200,000 people are expected to swell our normal Búzios population of 28,000, and that doesn't take into account the thousands of tourists that disembark every day from the cruise ships. The hoteliers are rubbing their hands together with glee. They've been waiting for high season on pins and needles. They have already announced nearly 100% occupancy, even with minimum packages of five to seven days. Owners of rental properties are salivating. There are people willing to shell out as much as $8,000 per week for the privilege of luxury private lodgings. Equally energized are the restaurants, the souvenir shops, the tour operators, the taxi drivers and the food markets. Drugstores will turn a steady profit just from sunscreen sales alone. Informal beach peddlers are counting on these two months to make up for the slow sales of low season.

...and squeezing into our one entrance to town
My annual holing-up also starts today, and I will remain holed up until after Carnaval. And I don't think I'm so unusual. High Season is dreaded by almost all the year-round residents here, same as it is dreaded by year-round residents of the south of France, the Hamptons and probably every other seasonal resort in the world. The worst of it here will occur during the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day, and then again during the week of Carnaval. But even in between those two bookends there will be no escaping the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the long lines in the supermarkets, higher prices on everything everywhere, and the scores of unconscious, noisy, inconsiderate, partying renters spreading what they think of as "good cheer" into the wee, small hours of the morning. There will be a dearth of parking spaces. There will be unbelievable strain on the water and electric services.

Can't see it, but I think it's Geribá Beach
Disliking clamor and hullabaloo as I do, Mark and I decided years ago to try and leave town during this period, and we did manage to get away a few times. One year we spent the Christmas/New Year holiday in the States (I had forgotten about snow). Another year we checked into a hotel in São Paulo for our escape. We figured São Paulo — Brazil's serious, business city — would completely empty out during the holidays, and it did. We figured the hotels would be desperate for customers and would offer super deals, and they did. We had a great (read quiet) time. 

But most years we have stood our ground, and we plan to do the same this year. After all, I used to be a Girl Scout, I know what to do in emergency situations. We shall stock up on rental movies, get out our favorite music and stay in our house. We'll use the car only when absolutely necessary, and be grateful to have nearly everything we need within walking distance. And I have a feeling that — as in past years — I'll complain and rant and expostulate. But this, too, shall pass. In retrospect, I won't think High Season was so bad. Until December 26th of next year. 

[I'm not a total Scrooge. I hope everyone enjoyed a Merry Christmas! I wish everyone a Happy New Year! And to my Brazilian friends, Bom Carnaval!]

22 December 2011


The ubiquitous thumbs-up gesture. It's used by everybody, all over the world. But what, exactly, does it communicate? Well, according to Roger E. Axtell's Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World a person would be well-advised to think before flashing a thumbs-up. Considered an upbeat symbol of good feeling and support in the Western world, in some Middle Eastern countries the gesture is an obscene insult. According to Axtell, it is similarly pejorative in parts of West Africa and Sardinia. Continuing around the world, thumbs-up can indicate the number one in Italy, Germany, Greece and Hungary, and the number five in Japan. In Russia and Finland its meaning is "awesome," "good," or "well done." In Australia, a thumbs-up generally means "terrific." In Egypt and Israel it means "perfect" or "very good." And Axtell notes that in Brazil, thumbs-up can be used in lieu of saying "thanks."

Wait one minute — in Brazil it can be used in lieu of saying "thanks"? Huh? No, here's where I beg to differ. I don't know Roger Axtell, but I have to think he's never been to Brazil. The thumbs-up gesture might not have been invented here — it's said that Brazilians adopted the gesture from watching American pilots based in northern Brazil during World War II — but here is where it has been perfected. It is used constantly, and "thanks" is the very least that the gesture means. For example, it can be used for "hello," "good-bye," "okay," "good luck," "how are you?" "see you around," "congratulations," "new car?" and "delicious."

Entire conversations can be held in the flash of that one simple hand gesture. In a restaurant it can be a signal to the waiter that you're happy with the food. Or —  if you hold up an empty beer glass in one hand and give the waiter a thumbs-up with the other — you just might be saying, "I know you're busy, but when you get a chance, could you bring another beer? Yes, another dark beer on tap." And the waiter's answering thumbs-up? "I hear you, no problem, coming right up."

I find the thumbs-up a particularly useful gesture for getting out of potentially embarrassing situations, like when you hear your name shouted from across the street. You look around and someone's waving and smiling. Just send back a thumbs-up which means, "Hi, yeah, I know I know you, but sorry, I can't remember from where." You get a thumbs-up back, and everyone walks away happy from that one.

Out in Brazilian traffic the thumbs-up is the great silent communicator. It's used to acknowledge the person who's stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic but who magnanimously let's you turn in or out of a street in front of them so as not to hold up your side of traffic any more. "Now that's using your head. Good call," says your thumbs-up. But then there are the drivers who are about to do an illegal or dangerous maneuver in front of you, and who use the gesture to anticipate and appease your road rage. In that instance it usually means, "Hey, buddy, let me in, will 'ya? What, you got a problem? Okay, it's over, see? No harm done."

I actually don't remember what my personal hand gestures were years ago, but I don't think the thumbs-up was one of them. Not being born here, I've had to adopt it quite consciously. Now, of course, I probably use it five to ten times a day, if not more. To me the thumbs-up is such a Brazilian gesture that I wouldn't be at all surprised if I heard that a newborn Brazilian baby gave the attending doctor the thumbs-up at birth.

19 December 2011

The Language of Oil Spills

Over 30 years ago I worked for a maritime law firm which represented the French Government in litigation against Amoco Oil Company, owner of the oil tanker AMOCO CADIZ which grounded off the northwest coast of France in 1978, causing one of the biggest oil spills in history. I'm neither a lawyer nor an engineer, nor am I an expert in the petroleum field. My ten-year gig on this case was spent mostly as a document translator. But that experience gave me a real feel for the utter disconnect between what the oil companies say, what the oil companies mean, and what the reality is.

Now I sit on the eastern coast of Brazil with the threat of oil lapping the shores of my very own backyard, literally. Oil has been leaking from an offshore Chevron well since — let's see, Chevron says since November 9th, the Brazilian authorities say since November 7th. (That's only one of many inconsistencies.) Even though the oil may have drifted out to sea rather than onto shore, there remain a lot of questions and fingers are pointing like crazy. And it won't get any clearer, not for years to come. Don't waste your time trying to figure out the chronology or prepare your own time lines. Great minds, both engineering and legal, are already hard at work doing that, each to their own advantages.

Business English courses are springing up all over Brazil, but "corporate speak" English — the English that Chevron has been using — is a whole 'nother animal. "Corporate speak" is pure gobbledygook. It also minimizes whenever possible, like calling what's happened a "spill incident." That's so much lighter and less serious than an actual spill, isn't it? What a relief, we're just having an incident. Or referring to "the oil sheen" on the ocean's surface. I love that one. No thick, gloppy oil slick here, just a slight sheen, like the healthy sheen on a glowing face. The Brazilians believe that what's happened is an oil leak, and have consistently used the Portuguese word "vazamento" (for leak) in their discussions. Chevron, however, prefers the term "seep" as in, "We believe no new oil is seeping from the reservoir." More relief, our sheen is merely seeping, gradually and slowly.

Chevron president George Buck
A Brazilian friend of mine asked me last week why the president of Chevron Brasil, George Buck, sat at the "I'm-sorry-we're-doing-all-we-can" press conference and calmly read a prepared statement. This is most definitely not the way it's done in Brazil. Buck's Brazilian equivalent would have spoken emotionally, off the cuff, possibly with some tearing up, some self-deprecating humor and a few references to his family thrown in. Buck's performance did not go over well here. But in corporate America, that's the norm. It's what expensive legal departments are for. Chevron didn't deviate from the script for one nanosecond. First, Buck apologized for not speaking Portuguese. Then he offered sincere apologies to the Brazilian people. Then he stated that Chevron took full responsibility. (Just an aside, under maritime law that "full responsibility" will be shared with Chevron's partners, Petrobras and Frade Japão, as well as with Transocean as owner of the rig, Chevron's insurers and underwriters, with any manufacturer of any piece of equipment that might have had something to do with the "incident," and anyone else they can find.)

A huge blowup of this picture hung on my office wall during my AMOCO CADIZ lawsuit days. It shows the last piece of the vessel — looking an awful lot like the shark from Jaws — looming over the little Breton fishing village of Le Conquet. For those who might be wondering how it all came out, the law firm I worked for won the case against Amoco. Amoco appealed, and lost the appeal. It takes decades, but truth can prevail.

15 December 2011

The Ebb and Flow of the Tides

"First the tide rushes in, 
La la la, la la la ..."

(I don't know anybody who can sing all the lyrics to Ebb Tide. Everyone knows that first line, but what comes next? Go ahead, finish the song — before playing the video.)

There must be tides in the East River. There must be tides in the Hudson River. But when you live in New York, who knows about tides? Who cares? Tides don't impact on our lives in any way. But now the very first Internet page I open up in the morning — before The Times, before O Globo, before Facebook, before e-mail — is the Búzios tide tables page. You don't want to miss a good low tide here on Manguinhos Beach. Other Búzios beaches are so wide that you can walk ten abreast even at high tide. But our beach is narrow. When the tide is in, the water slaps high and hard against our beach wall, completely covering the sand. There's no walking on the beach unless you're willing to get good and wet. But when the tide is out, okay, then you're home free. You can structure your day. Check the tide table and you know when you can go food shopping via the beach, instead of via asphalt. You know when you can take a long walk on the beach, instead of exercising at home. And you know when you can join friends for lunch via the beach, instead of getting into the car and driving to meet them the old-fashioned way.

For the longest time we allowed tide action to remain in the background, to be some vaguely perceived show out the window.  At low tide we watched the locals fan out in our bay and dig for cockles and small crabs. At low tide we watched the fishermen walk out to where their once-bobbing boats sat in the muddy sand, ready for repair and maintenance. At low tide we noticed that people used the beach simply as a more pleasant way to get  from here to there. When a complex of shops and restaurants opened down the beach we knew we could get there by car, on the street, in traffic. But if we waited until the tide was out we could also get there via the beach in six minutes. 

So, since we're not fishermen or born-and-bred buzianos, we had to turn to Google to find out when the tide would be low. We found a terrific tide chart at  http://www.tide-forecast.com/locations/ArmacaodosBuzios-Brazil/tides/latest  that's got a red flashing ball going up and down the bar chart with the ebb and flow of the tide. No way our newfound smarts will get us graduated from the US Coast Guard Academy — I still don't know a spring tide from a neap tide — but, in our way, we do now live by the tides. Makes us feel at peace with our environs.

12 December 2011

Christmas in Brazil

No matter how long I live in Brazil I will never get used to Christmas in the summertime. I have such a hard time wrapping my head around it. How on earth can you dream of a white Christmas when the closest snow is nine flight hours away? How can you roast chestnuts by an open fire without the roaring fireplace? Sleigh bells ring? Really? What's a sleigh? And how can all the Santas put on those heavy wool outfits, with the beards and the hats and the heavy bags of presents, and go about their business as if the temperature/humidity index isn't 104 F (40 C)?

But as summer approaches, so does Christmas, so I'd just better get with the program. Christmas is still essentially Christmas, no matter what the thermometer says. One thing, though, the preparations start a little earlier here than I'm used to. There being no Thanksgiving in Brazil, Christmas doesn't have to wait its turn before hanging its decorations. Nativity scenes, Santas, reindeer and candy canes have been sprouting up in the public spaces since the start of November. The print ads and TV commercials for special Christmas travel packages have been going full blast for months now. The local supermarkets are quite suddenly chock-a-block with dried fruits and panettones. And there's certainly the same sense of frenzied, panicked Christmas shopping — Will I buy everything in time? — that one gets anywhere in the world.

No chimneys here. Santa arrives via kitesurf.
Of the three big holidays looming on the horizon, in Brazil Christmas is always spent with family. (New Year's Eve can be spent either with friends or with that one special person, and Carnaval — well, for Carnaval you're on your own.) Over the years, Mark and I have felt privileged to be included in several Christmas Eve family dinners, called ceias. A Christmas ceia is generally served at midnight (or a little earlier, if you've invited some foreigners...) unless the family is attending the missa do galo, or the midnight "rooster's" mass, called that because the rooster's crowing heralds the coming of Christmas Day. If the family goes to the missa do galo, then the ceia is served around 1:00 am.  Children get served first so that they can go to bed. Depending on the family's customs, gifts are handed out either after the ceia or after mass. Some families also attend late afternoon mass on Christmas Day, so that they can spend Christmas morning at the beach. 

The Christmas ceia is plentiful and varied, and looks an awful lot like our Thanksgiving. They serve turkey, chicken, ham and/or pork loin, but they also serve something called a chester. I'm really not sure what a chester is, but I've eaten it, I've served it, and it's tasty. It's not like the American turducken, but it's in that when-it-was-alive-it-sure-didn't-look-like-this category. There are also varieties of vegetables, colored rice and lots of salads. Dried fruit & nuts show up before and during the meal, and again in desserts. By the way, a meal of this size, served so late, is unusual in the hot summer, but hey — it's Christmas. 

To my slight disappointment, there's absolutely no tradition of Christmas songs in Brazil. The few songs that play at this time of year in the stores and restaurants are imported. Every year I find myself longing to join a group of carollers and stroll around singing in perfect, tight harmony. I don't know why, because I've only done it once in my life — in Hoboken, New Jersey, and it wasn't easy singing with frozen lips — but I keep getting the urge anyway. I can sense it coming on this year, too. Any takers?

08 December 2011

Pick a Fruit, Any Fruit

"I'm Chiquita banana and I've come to say,
Bananas have to ripen in a certain way ..."

Those of us who grew up in the U.S. in the '50s and '60s can sing all or part of the Chiquita banana commercial jingle, one of the most successful of all time. When Miss Chiquita made her debut in 1944, bananas were considered an exotic tropical fruit. Americans had to be taught how to ripen and use them. But though the jingle is snappy, bananas were looked down on. After all, they came from banana republics, and I don't mean The Gap's sister stores. The banana republic of my youth was a pejorative term used for politically unstable countries whose sole export was bananas. Bananas eventually caught on in the States, but it was hard work for Chiquita's United Fruit Company. America was and will probably always remain basically an apple culture.

Apple pie à la mode......ummm
"A is for apple" is how we learned the first letter of the alphabet in kindergarten. I grew up eating a variety of apples, including McIntosh, red delicious, golden delicious, granny smith, russet, cranapple, and then, just to be sophisticated, gala and fuji. There were apple desserts galore, starting with the all-time favorite, apple pie. Beyond the pie, there were the crisps, crumbles, cookies, brown bettys, cobblers, pandowdys, cakes, charlottes and puddings. There was fruit compote, baked apples and applesauce. We ate apple scones, apple dumplings, caramel apples. And there was nothing like spreading apple butter on hot, just-out-of-the-oven bread.

We weren't totally banana-ignorant — or so we thought. We ate bananas, we even liked bananas. I knew all the words to the Banana Boat Song and sang right along with Harry Belafonte. But what a shock I had when I brought my first bunch of Brazilian bananas to the supermarket checkout counter and was asked by the young check-out girl, apparently new to the store, "Which kind are these, prata or agua? " I looked at her. If she couldn't tell the two apart, how was I to? I said, "I don't know ... aren't they just bananas?" Oh, what an innocent I was. I had no idea what I had just walked into. I was now in true banana country, home of Carmen Miranda and "Bananas is my Business."  Búzios itself used to be one huge banana plantation.

Bananas are discussed and argued about here the way wine grapes are discussed and argued about in France. There are five main categories of bananas: banana ouro, banana da terra, banana nanica, banana prata and banana maça, each divided into subcategories. I still have a hard time telling one from the other, so please don't ask. But at least now I know they exist. I know they're boiled, mashed, pureed and roasted. They're ground into flour, blended into drinks, they're baked and fried. Occasionally, they're eaten raw. And for dessert, they're made into cakes, pies, creams and puddings. And some of my Brazilian friends are categorical about which banana to use in which dish.  

When we have Brazilian friends over for dinner, I often make an apple crisp for dessert, straight out of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Apple desserts are still unusual here and it's fun to surprise people. Our guests, skeptical at first, invariably end up asking for the recipe. Recently, a good friend took my recipe and made it for her family. She called a few days later to share the results. She said it came out great. But as we kept talking she let slip that the baking time I gave her was a bit off, since hers took so much longer. I was surprised. I couldn't imagine why that would be. Took a bit of pushing and prodding until I wormed it out of her: she had substituted bananas for the apples. Old habits die hard.

05 December 2011

Another Soccer Championship

Am I getting older, or are sports championships more complicated than they used to be? I mean, I grew up following baseball's World Series championship with no problem: at the end of the season, the best American League team played the best National League team, and the winner of those games won the championship. Very straightforward. But the front page of the Sports section of Sunday's O Globo (Rio's answer to The New York Times) stopped me short. Today is the final day of soccer's 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro de Clubes da Série A (Brazil's A-Teams Soccer Championship), known as the Brasileirão.  For the first time in history the outcomes are not already known. The remaining ten games in the championship will be played simultaneously at 5:00 this afternoon, and everything's still up in the air. A lot of diehard fans are going to experience a lot of emotion and stress.

Never thought I'd rue the day that I took my degree in linguistics. Today it's a degree in applied mathematics that would be useful. For starters, in order to win the Brasileirão, Rio's Vasco has to win its game against Rio's Flamengo, but it also has to hope that São Paulo's Palmeiras beats São Paulo's Corinthians in their game. If Flamengo ties the game with Vasco it might get a spot in the Libertadores, a multi-national South American Soccer competition. But if  Flamengo wins over Vasco, and Fluminense loses its game against Botafogo, Flamengo gets a guaranteed spot in the Libertadores. And if Flamengo loses, it might still secure a Libertadores spot but only if two of the following teams lose their games: Coritiba, Internacional and Figueirense.

Are you with me?

The other team that has a chance to win the Brasileirão is Corinthians, the current leader going into this final championship round. They can win the championship even if they only end up in a tie with Palmeiras no matter the outcome of any other game. They can even lose their game and still win the championship, but only if Vasco ties or loses. Their rival Palmeiras has already been guaranteed a spot in the Sul-Americana, another multi-national South American soccer competition. Palmeiras is playing today because they have to play out the round, and because there's a chance they can frustrate their rival's celebration.

In order to secure its spot in the Libertadores, Botafogo doesn't just have to win over Fluminense but Coritiba, Figueirense, Internacional and São Paulo all have to lose their games. Fluminense needs a tie to reach the Libertadores, but will also get there if Flamengo loses to Vasco.

There are seven more games today with similar if-only-this-then-that outcomes, but I'm done in. I spoke to a number of Brazilians before the games who, although admitting to the exceptional complexity of the final round, were mildly surprised at my inability to "get it." Maybe you have to have been born here, maybe it has to be in your blood. But whatever my confusion, I'll be watching at 5:00 along with the whole country. By 7:00 it will be history.

                                                                   * * * * * * * *

I know you're all on the edge of your seats, so here's the skinny: Corinthians won the Brasileirão for the fifth time, and also won a spot in the 2012 Libertadores. Well, I'm pretty sure they did. Vasco, Fluminense and Flamengo all tied their respective games, and I think they have all been classified for the 2012 Libertadores. But whether Botafogo and Palmeiras got into the Sul-Americana, I'm not sure. Maybe. As for Santos, Figueirense, São Paulo ... and, um, Internacional ... wait, wait ... I think Coritiba ... hold on, I have the classification chart right in front of me ...  

01 December 2011


"Blow....tropic wind....sing a song....through the trees....
Poinciana, your branches speak to me of love...."

I never gave much thought to the Royal Poinciana tree, made famous in the song "Poinciana (Song of the Tree)," and recorded over the years by the usual suspects (Sinatra, Crosby, Nat King Cole, Mathis...). Now I own five of these striking beauties. Three of our flamboyants, as they're called in South America, burst into flaming red-orange flowers in November and December, and the other two wait until January and February. No one planned it that way, but it gives us an entire season of flowering trees.

I always thought the most beautiful bougainvillea I ever saw was in Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunisia. But years later I passed through Savannah, Georgia and was struck dumb by what I saw there. After that came a jaunt through southern Spain where the bougainvillea were even more gorgeous. I daydreamed about what it would be like to live amongst such beautiful plants. Now I know.

The ubiquitous hibiscus seems to be second only to bougainvillea in popularity around here. Unfortunately for us, the many hibiscus bushes on our property are all about 20 years old, which means they're just about at the end of their life cycle. Time to do some serious replanting.


When I saw my first pine tree growing right next to cactus I was astonished. But over time I learned that Brazil sprawls over three climate areas, from tropical to equatorial to temperate. Everything grows here, all in a jumble. Here is a neighbor's temperate zone pine tree towering over his tropical zone flamboyants.

I knew next to nothing about cacti before moving to Brazil. I certainly never knew any of them flowered. I never knew how beautiful and varied they were. I never knew how painful some of them could be should you be so unlucky as to back into one. I never thought I'd ever own any, and certainly not any as unusual as this first one pictured, which we call our broccoli monster.

We received this stunning Christmas cactus plant as a gift years ago. To my surprise and delight, it flowers about three to four times a year, unusual for this once-a-year bloomer.

Nearly everyone we know attaches orchids to their trees. The plants wrap their roots around the trunk, insinuate themselves into the bark and bloom and propagate and bloom again. Ours flower nearly year-round. 

I have a thing about bromelias. They're stunningly beautiful, but as soon as I learned that the dengue mosquito thrives in the water that collects in their leaves, I decided against having them in or around the house. Maybe I've cut off my nose to spite my face, but no one in our house has yet suffered from dengue. This very unusual bromelia grows in the garden of a friend of ours. 

We have a huge lily plant by our front door which flowers throughout the year in dramatic spurts. As you can see, it's in a spurt right now.

I love this almond tree, which grows across the street from us. Here we've caught it just beginning a new budding cycle. 

I haven't the faintest idea what any of these plants or flowers are called. I just think they're beautiful. Can anyone help identify?