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