22 September 2014

I Pini di Búzios*

I spend a good deal of my time at home gazing at pine trees, real Northern Hemisphere pine trees, something of an oddity here in subtropical Búzios. But there they are, three of them, on a property just two houses away from us. You probably can’t read the height of the two in the photo to the right, since I wasn’t able to get anything like a kid on a bicycle hauling a friendly Extra-Terrestrial over the treetops into the picture for scale, but they absolutely soar. If I guessed, I’d say the taller of the two is about 60 feet. They fascinate me, and for the simple reason that before moving here I imagined that I was going to be surrounded by palm trees, banana trees and tangly jungly vines. Never would I have imagined sitting on my terrace occasionally humming O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, wie treu sind deine Blätter.

The Austrian owner of the property on which these pines grow was sharing a bottle of wine with us the other day on our terrace. His looming pines watched us silently. "So what," we finally asked, "is the story on those pine trees?" He said, "Christmas trees." As simple as that. He had bought them as Christmas trees and then, instead of just throwing them out, he had planted them, and these giants are what resulted. Of course, the trees did not go zero-to-60 overnight. Our neighbor has been here in Búzios for well over 30 years.

Hugo of the pine tree
There’s another Búzios pine tree I had a very strong attachment to for many years, and I wish now that I had a picture of it from back before some Paul Bunyan-type came along and chopped it down. (Local environmental law says that if you want to chop down, or even trim, any of the native species on your property, you have to get a permit; in the absence of a permit, you risk a fine. Non-native species? Whack away at will.) This other pine I am thinking of was on the property of our dear and now long-lamented friend Hugo Oks. Of all the Argentines living here in Búzios, charming and aristocratic Hugo was far and away our personal favorite. On an afternoon on which he served one of his famous moqueca lunches, his towering pine tree, taller even than our neighbor’s three, was the beacon that lighted our way. I won’t say you could see it for miles off, but, because Hugo’s property was at the top of a fairly decent hill, you could see it from quite a distance. Even if you weren’t on your way to Hugo’s but you were headed somewhere else in the general direction of Ferradura, there it was, tall and proud. Then dear Hugo kind of allowed himself to die at the absurdly early age of 59. His property was sold and then — who knows why? — there was all of a sudden no more Hugo pine tree any more than there was a Hugo.

Roasted pine seeds, deelish!
Although pine trees in Búzios seem — to me at least — to be a bit strange, down in the much more temperate climes of southern Brazil, they flourish. One of the traditional cold-weather snacks in the state of Rio Grande do Sul are roasted pinhões, or edible pine seeds. I have a friend from there whose childhood is full of memories of pinhões right off the fire, the way some of us remember the roasted chestnut street vendors in New York. But why is it that I look at our neighbor’s pine trees every day in such wonder as they tower over his palm trees and his banana trees and his poincianas? Maybe it’s because I, too, am a transplant. And it’s not that we transplants have to stick together. It’s just that sometimes we recognize each other, with a subtle tip of the hat.

*with apologies to Ottorino Respighi, composer of the symphonic poem I Pini di Roma

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