17 December 2012

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

"Maybe it’s much too early in the game,
Ah, but I thought I’d ask you just the same,
What are you doing New Year’s,
New Year’s Eve?"

Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser

And before you answer, here’s a real blast from the past, from the Lawrence Welk show!!

Well, this surely is the question. We all ask it every year and — true to form — the question has already been circulating among our friends here in Brazil. What are we doing New Year’s Eve. Everybody’s feeling everybody out. Are you giving a party? Have you been invited to a "good" party? Can we tag along? Are you traveling, or will you be spending New Year’s Eve at home, just hanging out? Maybe we’ll hang out with you? Brazilians like to make their plans at the last minute, so nobody’s committing. And we’ve Brazilianized enough not to have committed yet either. We don’t know what we’re going to do.

Our 2006-2007 party
We have given five New Year’s Eve parties out of the ten New Year’s Eves we’ve spent here. But the decision to give another party is a real "on-the-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand-that" kind of decision. Because on the one hand, we feel it’s selfish of us not to give a party. Our house is positioned in such a way that we can see 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, who has a house two or three to the right of ours. How can we not share that remarkable advantage with our friends?

On the other hand, a good New Year’s Eve party is an enormous commitment of time and effort. If you want to give a good party, with good food, good drink and good music, you have to work at it. At our last party we had about 50 people (including party crashers), and the invitation list will only have grown exponentially since then. But we can’t help but think, why let a lot of work stop us? Because it’s really a lot of fun, too. Why else have this house, and in a party town that people flock to in droves during the holiday season?

They enter any way they can

I'm sure she crashed here, too!
On the other hand, there’s the little problem of electricity. During the holidays the 28,000-strong population of Búzios swells to as many as 200,000 people. Hard for the electric company to sustain the demand of so many air conditioners and hair dryers! More than once we’ve lost electricity on New Year’s Eve itself. And even if we stock up on candles and batteries and flashlights, any party we’ve planned and prepared and worked on and set food out for can easily go bust. Without electricity you can’t hear the doorbell. You can’t play music. You can’t turn on the stove. You can’t see your way down the stairs. You can’t have a party.

Crowds, noise, congestion -- Happy New Year!
And then there’s the problem we suffer if there is electricity. Because a good, strong supply of electricity guarantees that whoever has rented nearby houses can blast their music, the relentless boom-boom-boom that drowns out our own big band music. Last year, it was just Mark and me, and we couldn’t hear our own conversation. We also couldn’t sleep. So do we go out? On the one hand, that’s an attractive idea. If we go out, to a party or to a restaurant, we’re free from all that work. But on the other hand, we get caught in horrible bumper-to-bumper traffic, slowly inching our way nowhere fast.

So we still haven’t a clue as to what we’ll end up doing on New Year’s Eve. Whatever we decide to do, I wish you all a very Happy New Year! I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a few weeks. See you next year!

10 December 2012

Birds of a Feather

My husband, Mark, used to own the LP pictured here, Cantos de Aves do Brasil (Brazilian Bird Calls), back in the days when people used to own LPs. It was a serious piece of research, recorded back in the late '50s by Johan Dalgas Frisch, a Brazilian engineer and ornithologist. I was proud that it was part of our record collection, though I hardly listened to it. It's not exactly something you can put on the record player and tap your toe to. In fact, it wasn't until we left New York and moved to Búzios, and the first Brazilian bird crashed into our living-room window and perished (our first big drama here), that I started to pay real attention to the amazing birds soaring and dipping and gliding and singing all around us. I've wanted to write about them for a long time, but thought I couldn't write anything without knowing their names. But you know, I will never know all their names, in any language. So why not just put up all the pretty pictures? I do know some names, after all, and we can make the others up.

I'm going to start off with the prize, this gorgeous creature who came to visit for the first time last week, and stayed for hours before flying off. It was completely untroubled by our presence, by our picture-taking, by our talking. This bird seemed so used to being near humans that we thought maybe it was someone's escaped pet. I wish it would come back.

This one has a name! It's a bem-ti-vi (or great kiskadee), called so because the name mimics its call, or tries to. They're very common here, but no less beautiful because of that. There are two in this picture. Can you find Waldo?

We have lots of hummingbirds, but rarely do they sit still for a picture. This one did.

The garça (egret) is one of the most exquisitely graceful birds I've ever seen.

I don't know what these are, I call them the "tiny black-and-whites."

Next door to us there's a wooded area that houses large families of this bird, the martin pescador, or kingfisher. It has an awful cackle, but it's fun to watch.

Other families who live in that treed lot are brown doves, cooing, cooing, cooing all the time. And yes, they often do sit nestled up next to each other. It's really sweet.

Lots of seagulls by the sea. No surprise here.

We hear this one before we see it. It's the extremely noisy woodpecker.

Since I began this post with a gorgeous bird, I shall end it with this really ugly vulture.

03 December 2012

How Does My Garden Grow?

Long after I had left the proverbial nest, my parents started a vegetable garden in the backyard. They grew great big Jersey beefsteak tomatoes, sugar snap peas, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, squash, you name it. I think my moment of epiphany came one day when my mother was preparing dinner (grilled salmon with roasted new potatoes) and sent my father out to harvest some sugar snap peas. He brought in a bagful, she sauteed them in butter, and served what became one of those memorable meals the family would talk about for years later. Everything was delicious, but it was those peas, those just-off-the-vine, sweet sugar snaps that clinched the deal. I’ve wanted a garden of my own ever since.

American Gothic lives!
Mary, Mary, quite contrary . . . 

Unfortunately, I lived in apartments for about 20 years, so whatever ambitious gardening plans I might have had were put on hold. Couldn’t even set a couple of potted herbs out on the windowsills — co-ops have Rules, after all — so I bided my time. And just when I was getting stiff-jointed and cranky, just when my back pains made it all but impossible to bend down, let alone plant, weed and harvest, that’s when Mark and I bought a house where it was really tempting to play the farmer in the dell at long last. I was undaunted and ready to plunge ahead, even if it hurt. At first we didn’t know where to put the garden. How were we going to "plow the North 40" on a property built on a steep incline? The only level area lay alongside the beach some 68 steps down from the house (not to mention 68 steps back up). No dice. I tried planting some herbs in a narrow strip of dirt alongside our kitchen, but they never got enough sun. No dice. Then I thought, let's use the jardineiras, deep planters built onto the outside walls of our terrace. But these jardineiras hang some eight meters above the ground. No way was I going to be able to handle a garden there. No dice. Then along came Sandoval.

Jardineiras in the sky

Sandoval is our new caseiro, or caretaker, now a mere eight months into his job. He grew up on a farm in the northeastern state of Bahia. His nostalgia for farming and my desire for a vegetable garden were a match made in heaven. Sandoval is young and nimble and fearless, and jumps in and out of those jardineiras like an Olympic gymnast on the balance beam. And he makes it down those 68 steps and back up without a huff or a puff. It took ten years, but we’ve begun to harvest our first crops.

So far, we’re doing pretty well in that "North 40" by the beach. Sandoval’s been nursing various fruit trees, like banana, sugar apple, passion fruit and avocado. Our successes up in the jardineiras have been three varieties of lettuces, green and red peppers, cherry tomatoes, kale, beets and carrots. As for my kitchen herbs, we’ve been harvesting parsley and cilantro, but are watching oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme with some trepidation. They’re looking a bit frail. Our failures, on the other hand, have been many: zucchini, melon, cucumber, eggplant, turnip, scallion, pumpkin and green beans have all turned to mulch. But we keep on buying seeds, and Sandoval keeps on planting them. There’s something wonderfully visceral and satisfying about picking your own peck of peppers to pickle — not to mention pulling up your own carrots. Right, Miz Scarlett?