A Bird Book in Brasil

When Aitch said ‘Come with me to Brasil’ in 1988 I shouted ‘Hell, yes!’ over my shoulder as I rushed off to a bookstore to buy a book on the birds of Brasil.

There wasn’t one. I asked everywhere and searched everywhere, but no luck. Then I asked Hardy Wilson, who reached up to one of the many shelves in the library in his lovely home in Hollander Crescent and brought down his only copy of Aves Brasileiras and said ‘You can use this.’ I think he said it was the only field guide to Brazilian birds that he knew of and that it was out of print. Something along those lines, anyway. Wow! Are you sure? I asked. ‘Sure. Go. Enjoy.’

In Rio de Janeiro we found another copy – a hardcover. When we got back I offered Hardy his choice of either, in case the soft cover had sentimental value, but he preferred the hardcover, so I still have Hardy’s soft cover book Aves Brasileiras.

Using it made us realise how lucky we were in South Africa to have Roberts and Newmans field guides. I thought the book was probably Brasil’s first, but today I found this post by Bob Montgomerie of the American Ornithological Society’s History of Ornithology site. That’s what reminded me of Hardy’s book and his generosity thirty years ago.

Marcgraf1
Jacana from Marcgraf 1648

Bob Montgomerie: The first work of this genre (“Birds of – name of a country”) to be published was probably Georg Marcgraf’s section on birds, Qui agit de Avibus, in Piso’s Historia Naturalis Brasiliae published in 1648. Several other books about birds were published in the 16th and 17th centuries but this is the only one I could find that was specifically about the birds of a particular country or region, at least as indicated by the title.
Marcgraf’s bird section is a masterpiece that was THE authority on South American birds for the next two centuries. Even the paintings are pretty good given the quality of bird art in books by his contemporaries, and each species gets a separate account. Unfortunately for most scientists today, Marcgraf’s work is in Latin and relatively inaccessible.

Well, Hardy’s book was in Portuguese, and relatively inaccessible to us! But without it we would have been lost.

I found a pic of Hardy on the History site with Jane Bedford and a chap dressed funny. Jane has appeared in one of my stories before, in another world, long ago.

not that I’m saying Jane’s not dressed funny . . .

Brasil in 1988

Aitch took me to Brasil. She had done well as usual in her sales for Scherag and so off we went. First a flight to Manaus in Amazonas province, then a long drive eastward along the Amazon River towards a lake just off the river, then by ferry to a pousada on Silves Island.

We weren’t married, but I was on my best behaviour and just watched as the bachelors (actual and temporary) in the party would trumpet every night ‘TooDooDoot TooDoo’ “we’re going fox-hunting!” they would announce at dinner and troop out with huge grins on their dials.

I stuck to feathered birds like oropendolas, huge toads, caymans and a fresh, very sad ocelot skin the lodge staff had proudly recently shot! Aaargh!

oropendola call

Then we headed way south to the coast, to Angra dos Reis – the Cove of Kings. A booze yacht trip to the islands and beaches and swimming. One night Aitch felt ill and announced she’d go to bed early, I must go to supper alone. Yes!? I said. Sure, she said. Enjoy yourself. Ha HAAA! I was off – after dressing in my warrior fox-hunting regalia. At supper I tooted the fox-hunting horn with the best of them and announced my newfound freedom. We were off.

We found a bar with a wonderful barman. He gave you anything you wanted and all you had to do was scribble your name! It was first-class. Another round! I’d yell and we’d throw down another marvelous caipirinha and fling the glass over our shoulder. No! No! said the barman, grabbing his broom and sweeping up the pieces. MORE BEER! I’d yell, getting into my stride now.

Of course, I can handle my liquor but some of the guys were less capable. In fact, they dropped me twice on the way back to my chalet. And once there they just propped me up against the door, knocked and ran away. So Aitch found me closely inspecting the door mat and mumbling how I’d have to have a word with them about their service.

She says she dragged me into the shower and ran the cold water full blast and threw me into bed but of course that could all be rumours I don’t know I wasn’t there.

I got up early and made breakfast, feeling sprightly. And where were all the culprits? Nowhere to be seen. All indisposed, it was said. That’s what drinking too much will get you. We checked out that day and I was made to pay a bill a metre long with some complete stranger’s signature on all the slips. A signature that got less and less of something until it was just a short downward line with what looked like drool on it. I just paid. Rumours were going around and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I was there as merely spouse-of, so I had to behave.

Yacht at Angra dos Reis, Brasil

On to Rio! To the Copacabana! I was sure there’d be some licenced premises there too. There were! Aitch turned thirty high up on the roof of our hotel, with her colleagues giving her a huge festive bash. We had a banner made to string above the bar “THIRTY! and UNMARRIED!” it said. We had a roaring party that had the hotel guests below us wanting us to hush and the favela okes on the hills above us wanting to join in!

Copacabana Beach from our hotel roof
the cantagalo favela seen from our hotel roof (wikipedia pic)

pousada – Lodge or Inn

Angra dos Reis – cove – or inlet or creek – of kings

caipirinha – wonderful cold drink; refreshing; then tiptoes around behind you and taps you on the shoulder

favela – informal housing; shacks on the steep hill slopes

Labour of Love – Aitch

My bird list book made by Aitch back in 1985, soon after we met.

Aitch birdlist book

Every bird from Roberts handwritten – and done on the quiet so I only got to see the end result for my first xmas present from her!

After that we birded in other countries in Africa. Also in the USA, Brasil, UK, Europe, Malaysia and Indonesia. These lists I just hand-wrote in.

Here she is round about then . .

Aitch ca.1986 in Brasil

Mkhuze Peach needs a Balaclava

Later we go on a night game drive in an open vehicle with Patrick, ‘our’ Mkhuze Ezemvelo Ranger. The three of us and a family of four from Durban. On the drive I realise that of the eight people on the vehicle I am the only one reflecting an excessive amount of moonlight from my ‘peachy’ face. Probably scaring the animals.

I’ll have to get meself a balaclava.

Image

Oxpecker collage
Oxpecker collage

 

Take a Moment . .

. . . to actually stop and think WTF and HOW TF and holy guacomole!

An oke from Pretoria who had the misfortune to be sent to Pretoria Boys Hah – and thereby dip out on a decent, co-ed, normal, non-pervy upbringing* – has just sent his car (which he happened to be involved in the design and making of himself) into deep space.

He took his own car, put David Bowie on the audio player, wrote DON’T PANIC ala Douglas Adams from Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy on the dashboard screen and fired his fuckin own aut OUT INTO SPACE!

Falcon Heavy & Tesla.png

Up into orbit around the Earth, then out towards Mars, but past Mars so that a red convertible will now be orbiting the Sun for the next billion years! Obviously Pretoria Boys High was focused elsewhere in the 80’s while the rest of SA was keen on a big anti-littering campaign.

And there it goes, actually jolling in space, the first open-top car to ever cruise with the whole of Earth showing up outside the window, then fade away in the rearview mirror as Mars grows bigger. As far as picking up chicks goes, its odds are no worse than Pretoria in the 80’s.

Tesla Roadster in space

If you had told me this in the Doories pub I’d have told you:

Shut The Fuck Up and

Sit The Fuck Down

(I got that from my new millenium kids)

Holy shit!

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This is so amazing I can personally only think of ONE WAY in which it could have been made even more awesome:

If they’d fired a grey and grey Opel Concorde Rekord-breaker up with a slightly balding oke behind the wheel drinking Black Label and singing Lou Reeds’ Walk on the Wild Side on the playa and ALICE’S RECTUM written in lipstick on the windscreen – now THAT . .

THAT woulda trumped this.

Not a convertible, a convert-ed – it would have a roof, but same would be dented cos of some maniac jumping on it with a space suit on.

Koos 21st at Kenroy-001.jpg

On board the red sportscar is something very special.

Arch library Disk onboard Tesla_2.jpg

The Arch – pronounce ‘ark’ for archive – library, created using a new technology, 5D optical storage in quartz, developed by Dr. Peter Kazansky and his team, at the University of Southampton, Optoelectronics Research Centre. The disks are written by a femtosecond laser on quartz silica glass. Data is encoded digitally using plasma disruptions from the laser pulses. Arch 1 is smaller but this new medium is expected to soon achieve a storage capacity of 360 Terabytes – 7000 Blu-Ray Disks! – per 3.75 inch disk of quartz, and is stable for at least 14 billion years under a wide range of extreme conditions. Today this is the best way to store data for billions of years in space.

The Roadster will orbit the Sun for at least millions of years and will likely be the oddest object in the solar system, and thus the perfect place to put an Arch library so that it can be noticed and retrieved in the distant future.

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*maybe not. An interview in Rolling Stone tells of an abusive father, two marriages, two divorces, six kids – where does he find the TIME for all this!?

** We had an ancient goat of a Pommy optics lecturer named Frank Duro who would say “Alice’s Rectum” when anyone fussed. He meant “Alles sal Regkom” – all will be well.

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Read Science Fiction . . .

Aitch did.

She introduced me to Douglas Adams’ five Hitchhikers Guide books. For years I just looked at them on our library shelf, stuck in my natural history and science rut. Of course we’ve all read about them and seen many quotes from them, like these:

“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

“There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

“Don’t Panic.”

“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”

“You know,” said Arthur, “it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.”
“Why, what did she tell you?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t listen.”

“Space, is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

After Aitch died I finally read them. All. Voraciously. How could I not get hooked with those lines and others like this:

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”

I also read Adams’ real-life travel book on vanishing species where he says something about how the rhinos “trotted like boulders”.

I can clearly hear Aitch saying, “See?! I TOLD you! Hmph!”  – triumphant grin, nose in the air.

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Adams’ artistic sensibility is both specific and elusive. He can go from distraught to delighted in the space of a modifier. He combines Gary Larson’s irony, Bill Watterson’s wistful idealism, Oscar Wilde’s keen social observation, and Dorothy Parker’s mischievousness. But set in space. In short, he is a genre all to himself.

Jeff O’Neal, bookriot.com 

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It bugs me that our “Restaurant” and “Mostly Harmless:” books are missing from Adams’ “trilogy in four parts”, so here’s an internet pic of all five, just because.

Douglas Adams Universe books

 

Xudum in Okavango

Another trip to the Delta!

Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in 2001 when Janet & Duncan were running the show for Landela Safaris. We landed on the nearby bush strip.

 

After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.

On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.

We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.

Xudum (5)

Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree”.

Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.

Okavango Xudum Camp

Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s