08 December 2014


Well, I wanted to write about our banana tree, which has us so excited. It's bearing fruit!

And then I thought about writing more about our Man in Water, who is STILL there . . .

But instead I`m afraid I have to suspend the blog for a while, due to force majeure. Tropical Girl has to go up to the United States for a while. But for sure, see you all next year!

01 December 2014

Feliz Dia de Ação de Graças!

Ask ten Americans what their favorite holiday is and it’s possible that you will come up with ten different answers. Then again, it’s also possible that at least half of them will say that Thanksgiving is their favorite. It sure was my favorite holiday when I was growing up. Thanksgiving food may not be the healthiest you can eat, but I like it! I like a moist, roast turkey, I like stuffing and I like gravy (both of which my mother made from scratch). I like candied yams, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, pecan pie. Sometimes, when I was a kid, we’d go to a relative’s house, sometimes we’d do the hosting, but even when it was just the immediate family, we’d open the table in the dining room up to its full size and, what was really rare for us, we'd even lay on a tablecloth. There were, of course, a lot more dishes to wash, but the promise of no school and a few days off made up for the extra work.

Mark and I don’t have much of a Thanksgiving tradition together, mostly because Mark fairly hates Thanksgiving. But Mark is also an accommodating guy, and, even if he weren’t, he knows force majeure when he sees it. One occasion on which the force majeure was too strong to tangle with, we were in Buenos Aires. Americans we knew there were going to go and have their Thanksgiving turkey in an American-style restaurant called Kansas Grill in the suburb of San Isidro, where the Presidential residence is also located. These friends courted us energetically. There was nothing else we had to do that particular Thursday. Not even Mark was able to think of a convincing excuse, and we joined them and we had a good time. The Kansas Grill was kind of like the biggest and glitziest diner in any American suburb in which a stack of pancakes are called for on a Sunday morning. As I remember, we all got to sit in a huge booth, and that’s something that doesn’t happen every day in South America. Good turkey and good trimmings, too.

Sam Flowers
Last week, after several years of abstinence, I finally got my turkey-with-all-the-trimmings again. We had to be in Rio for most of the week, so we did the appropriate Googling and we discovered that we had two options. But it was easy to rule out Thanksgiving at the Marriott Hotel. Too Republican, and we'd have had to dress for the occasion to boot. So we reserved for three in the afternoon at the Gringo Café in Ipanema, more down-home and much more us. The place is real '50s-style, right down to the turquoise-colored chairs. It's run by Sam Flowers, an American from — well, I’m not sure, but I’d guess California, only because he sounded like my brother-in-law who is Californian. Sam is a good-looking guy and a great host, and he sure knows how to pile up a plate with turkey and trimmings. 

Just one thing that was a little odd. Thanksgiving is not a Brazilian holiday. Could be that other Americans were planning to stop by the Gringo Café for their turkey later. But, at the seemingly traditional Thanksgiving hour at which we turned up, the Americans were few and far between, and the Brazilians who stopped in would order a burger or a piece of cake and then go on about their everyday business.

Here was our menu (or rather, my menu). Scrooge ordered meatloaf.

Um um good!

 Now you see my pumpkin pie . . .

           . . . and now you don't!

So thanks, Sam, for my little taste of home! Same time next year?

A brief footnote to this. Brazilians may not give a hoot about Thanksgiving. But they sure seem to give a bunch of hoots about Black Friday, plus they give it a colorful Brazilian touch:

24 November 2014


When I moved to Brazil, along with all the excitement of a new home, a new language, new friends, new routines and a new angle on the world, I must admit that I also had a funny feeling, a persistent, underlying unease that I couldn’t quite put into words. There were plenty of distractions, of course. Picking our way through the minefield of visas and other bureaucratic procedures was distracting. Finding our way around the aisles of the local supermarkets was distracting. Valiantly treading the waters of three- and four-language dinner parties was distracting. But sometimes, in the quiet of an evening, there it was. That low hum of disquiet. What was wrong with me? Well, recently I’ve begun to hear of a new medical condition, a condition of extreme anxiety regarding opportunities, interactions, experiences and events that a person might miss. Could it be? Had I developed FOMO, the dread Fear Of Missing Out?

Jersey Boys, bis
There I was in my first month in Brazil, June 2002, right between the third and fourth seasons of The Sopranos! What was I going to do? Was I supposed to just fuggedaboutit? My distance from American television (and our pigheadedness about not subscribing to cable television here) also made it impossible for me to follow the newer shows like Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black, and other shows I don’t even know about. And what about new movie releases? I hadn’t realized that all movies are not released in all countries. Was I going to end up missing some? How was I going to make sense of the Oscars? (Turns out that the rights to the Oscars are tightly controlled, the show is not live-streamed, so I couldn’t watch it anyway.) And I had a real moment’s pause once I realized that I would miss the new books written by my favorite authors, the ones known collectively as "the Jonathans."* I found what I could in the used-book stores in Rio, but not all of the books I wanted to read made their way south of the border.

So how do I square our not subscribing to cable TV — so that we don’t sit and watch English-language shows — with that slight disquiet I feel about missing out on those very shows? I don’t square it, which tells me that my particular strain of FOMO might not be as dire as others. If it were, I’d have signed up for cable and Netflix. I have done one thing, though, and one thing only, to keep myself connected, and that was to get a Kindle. Now I have all the books I want right in my hands, available any time of day or night at the touch of a one-click Whispersync — whatever that actually is. The irony here is that some of my favorite authors have stopped being so prolific. One or two of them haven’t written a new book in ten years, so I haven’t missed a thing!

It took some time for me to wrench my core focus away from the USA and all that I might be missing there and focus instead on where I was actually living. Art and theater and concerts and films and novels and high-quality TV shows are created all over the world, and some reach the States late, and some reach the States not at all. Americans miss out on plenty, too. So do I suffer from FOMO? I admit that I did have a low-level case at first. But I’ll side with William Wordsworth, who wrote "For such loss . . . abundant recompense."** My loss has turned into my gain. (And of course, if I really, really need to, I can always just go out and buy the boxed set of all six seasons of the Sopranos!)

*Ames, Franzen, Lethem, Miles, Safran-Foer
**Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, William Wordsworth, 1798

17 November 2014

Our Humdinger of a Hummingbird

Butterfly is such a pretty word in any language — papillon (fr), borboleta (port), mariposa (sp), schmetterling (ger), sommerfugl (dan), kamehameha (hawaiian). Equally pleasing to the ear and to the eye is hummingbird — oiseau-mouche (fr), beija-flor (port), chupaflor (sp), manu hu (hawaiian). Hummingbirds are very much on my mind these days. Once a year for three years running Mark and I have enjoyed the brief company of a hummingbird family. Now — forgive me if I sound like Wild Kingdom's Jim Fowler — the mother, the sole nest builder and caregiver of the species, has repeatedly built her nest in one arm of a hanging lamp under the roof of our terrace pergola. I guess "location, location, location" is as important to hummingbirds as it is to humans, because our terrace lamp has apparently been found to be eminently suitable. Although the lamp swings fiercely in the wind, it is well protected from predators and rain.

Here's the lamp, sans nest.

Here's the mother, scoping out the area. Quite amazing for a hummingbird to remain so still, but house hunting is serious business!

The hummingbird nest is an amazing architectural creation, a dense cup that seems to spring up literally overnight. It’s made from moss and lichen, from feathers and small bits of bark and leaves, from plant down or fuzz, and most crucially, from spider silk, which is used both to bind the nest together and provide the necessary elasticity for the nest to expand as the babies grow (think of a pregnant woman’s stretch pants).

Only one to two eggs are laid. There isn't space for any more, no matter how elastic the nest!

Here's the mother hummingbird, patiently  at work.

And then Mark and I sit back and watch the birds grow. I admit to feeling enormous guilt for having snapped some of these pictures, because every time I approached and held the camera above the babies they sensed the shadow and thought Mom had come with food. It was hard for me to walk away from those open, yearning, hungry mouths!

The entire development process is quick, a mere five weeks or so from start to finish. One day I went looking for the babies again, and found only this one bird sitting on the rim of the nest. Just seconds after I snapped the picture, the second fledgling fledged!

So, Mother Hummingbird, same time next year?

10 November 2014

Man in Water

It never previously crossed my mind to blog about this subject, mostly because the subject is neither important nor compelling. But here it is. There is a man who stands in the water within view of our house almost every day, rain or shine, morning, afternoon or early evening. But because so many years have passed and he still stands there, solitary and pensive, I feel I must say something now. He stands there for hours, I exaggerate not. Hours. Sometimes at high tide, sometimes at low tide. He rarely moves. Only his clothes change from one day to the next. Who is he? Why does he stand there so immobile, and for so long? Pure mystery.

Most of the time he stands off to the left of our terrace in what appears to be his favorite spot —

But occasionally he stands off to the right of our terrace —

And once in a blue moon he stands directly in front of our house —