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 —

03 November 2014


There are two cities in Brazil that make me say This is beautiful, I could live here! every time I visit them. One of these cities is Tiradentes, up in the mountains of the State of Minas Gerais, one of the famous "historic cities" which include Ouro Preto, Congonhas and São João del Rey, among others. I think of Tiradentes as a city for mature people to live in or visit. The music pouring out of restaurants and shops is classical or jazz, which for me is a refreshing change from the generic and mediocre rock music which is the unfortunate background noise in many restaurants and shops in Búzios. There is a not-so-off-the-mark comment one hears often in Brazil, "Everything that’s good comes from Minas." Truth be told, much of our own best furniture and decorations comes from Minas, and in particular from Tiradentes.

Our beautiful guardian angel, straight from Tiradentes . . . 

. . . as are these cute couples 

Table courtesy Tiradentes

Another table courtesy Tiradentes

The other city that makes me daydream about moving is Paraty, which, like the "historic cities" in Minas, owes its frozen-in-colonial-time feel to the 18th century Brazilian Gold Rush. This shared history has left Paraty and Tiradentes with a similar look and feel, but for the fact that Tiradentes is landlocked and Paraty sits prettily on the water, conveniently located between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. So convenient, that Mark and I had to make it a stop on our way back from São Paulo recently. Paraty has an architecturally beautiful city center, prohibited to cars, and is chock full of art galleries and bookstores. Paraty’s fame has grown considerably since 2003, when it first organized FLIP (Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty), now an annual literary festival which draws authors and readers from all over the world.


First we found a pousada --

Our view

And then I ran to see the view --

And then we went to scout the restaurants --

And the galleries --

And the bookstores --

Paraty is truly frozen in time --

And on the way out of town I couldn't help but wonder -- any chance this house was on the market?

27 October 2014

Brazil's New (Old) President

Well, Dilma Rousseff was slightly ahead in the polls against my candidate, Aécio Neves, she kept the lead and won the election. Another four years of President Dilma. Another four years of the PT, the Workers' Party, with their hands on the till (and I do mean till, not tiller!). More corruption scandals, less economic growth. More promises, less achievement. Dilma campaigned on all the improvements she had made in education, health, transportation, security . . . though for four years people have suffered understaffed and badly-equipped hospitals, brand new ambulances have sat unused in storage facilities, kids have missed weeks of school due to badly-constructed and collapsing school buildings, 20-year old buses have circulated in the major cities in lieu of the new ones sitting and waiting to be "liberated" from some garage for reasons unknown and unknowable. Same old same old.

Dilma Rousseff

But let’s leave politics aside and focus on Brazil’s election and voting procedures, so similar to — yet so different from — those in the USA. Here are some of the differences:

USA — Voting is a right under the Constitution, and many citizens consider it a sacred duty. But you don’t have to vote if you don’t want to, and nothing happens to you if you don’t.
BRAZIL —Voting is a legal obligation. If for some reason you can’t vote, you must explain why, in writing, at your nearest voting registry. If you don’t do that, you will be assessed a fine. If you don’t pay the fine, various other penalties kick in: you won’t be able to get a passport, you may not be able to get a loan from a state-run bank, you won’t be able to work in civil service jobs, and after three unexplained absences your voting registration will be canceled.

The campaign season is seemingly never-ending. A new season starts right after an election, when the losing party begins to plot its strategy for the next election, years down the road. And a campaign costs tens of millions of dollars.

BRAZIL —The campaign season is rigidly controlled. The starting and ending dates for the campaign are set by law. The amount of television and radio time each candidate has — and which, by the way, is FREE! — is set by law. The content of campaign ads is monitored and controlled by the Supreme Electoral Court. On the day before the election all posters, flyers, and any other campaign paraphernalia must be removed, and noncompliance is subject to heavy fines.

"This time is reserved for free campaign advertising"

If you don’t want to vote for a candidate on the ballot, you can enter a "write-in" vote.

BRAZIL —If you don’t want to vote for a specific candidate, you can vote in branco (white, or in this case, blank), which is something of a protest vote. However, it is added to the tally of the candidate who has received the most votes without your help, thus pushing the candidate further into a majority. In that sense, voting branco is an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. Or you can vote nulo (null), which is a better protest vote. In this instance you vote for a party that doesn’t exist, and the vote is not added to any candidate’s tally.

Absentee ballots are mailed in, the old-fashioned way, with ballots inserted into special envelopes which are in turn put into larger, even more special envelopes, until you have something approaching a Russian nesting doll. And then, just to get our goat after all the time and energy we put into getting our absentee votes to the Board of Election of our last U.S. address, it turns out that the absentee votes are counted only in case of a close result!

BRAZIL —If you live outside of Brazil you are still obligated to vote, and you can do so at the nearest consulate. You vote on the same day and during the same hours as voters in Brazil, and your vote is counted immediately, along with the rest of the country.

the famous hanging chads
The result is known hours, and sometimes days or weeks, after the last polls close on the West Coast. The networks are very fearful of calling an election too soon, in case they turn out to be wrong. And the U.S. thinks it’s the country of super advanced technology!

All polls closed at 5:00 p.m. We knew the results at 8:00 p.m. Now that is advanced!

***Dear Readers***
I’ve been told that the videos from last week’s blog, Drone Strikes, were not visible. If you’re interested, you can access them via their links. The first one can be found at:

and the second one, which highlights our property, can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmu0jJmCie8
Sorry about that.