01 November 2010

Gigantic Beetle

I found this beetle carcass near the tree we parked next to at the school. (Yes, there are trees planted in the parking lots). I have no idea what type of beetle, but it was huge. This one had a green metallic irridescence and was about 3-4 inches long.
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Spooky Treats

These finger foods were fabulous.
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Week 11: Halloween Parties

Rebecca figured out that she attended seven parties last week, beginning with the newcomers luncheon at the Ambassador's residence last Sunday. On Friday, she assisted with the Sam's 1st grade class party, then took the kids over to the Embassy for Trick-or-Treating, and finished the night at the American School's Halloween Carnival. On Saturday, we attended the Primary Halloween activity at the church and then Rebecca and I went to the Hollywood Halloween Party sponsored by a member of the U.S. Embassy community. We did not go to the parties at the British or Canadian Embassies. Maybe next year. We finished the week at a friend's house on Halloween Sunday with an afternoon dessert and viewing of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

We decided that our favorite parties were the ones with activities and sound levels low enough to actually hold a conversation with other people. The one that was the least fun for us was the adult party on Saturday night. It was fun to see other people dressed as movie characters (Rebecca and I did Titania and Bottom from "A Midsummer's Night Dream), but it was impossible to talk to anyone due to the music volume.

Brazilian like music loud. The DJ's set up included speakers the size of my car, flashing lights and two large screen TV's showing videos of the songs being played. Like other Brazilian parties, the music could be heard done the block, the bass and drum beats pounding out the call to gather and bounce in place on the patio. My chest was vibrating as we approached the house from the front. We stayed for about an hour, but got bored with not understanding the music or being able to talk to other people. It was really kind of a lonely experience to be surrounded by people but not being able to speak with them.

On the other hand, American expats love Halloween. The costumes worn at the party were fabulous and creative. At the Embassy, the Americans and the local staff turned their offices and hallways into spook alleys  and gave away a ton of candy to the 100 or so kids that visited. Every accessible office had decorations using draping fabrics, streamers, balloons and other items ordered from The Oriental Trading Company. The Marines created a graveyard with tombstones and skeletons outside down their hallway. My favorite was the USAID and CDC crew's passage through and Egyptian tomb of cubicles, cardboard boxes and black drapes. They dressed up as mummies, too. My favorite detail was playing a shrieking mummy head on their desktop computers. Motorpool even created a Spooky Van to bring kids in from the school.

Over at the American School, the PTO fought to keep the tradition of a Halloween Carnival, and ended up presenting a great party. There were several booths with activities like Pin the Nose on the Witch, drinking a foggy witch's potion, various candy and ball tosses and Fishing for Bones. The high school students even created a haunted hallway spooky enough to keep Emma from sleeping for two nights after insisting on going through. We even got to eat very fresh hamburgers. Well, more like less than well-done almost a steak tartar version of a burger.

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Week 10-11: Halloween Costumes

The kids were allowed to wear costumes to school if they represented characters from books. Emma is Helen of Troy and Sam is Achilles. Lillian is Titania, Queen of the fairies from "Midsummer Night's Dream". Jacob is the werewolf Jacob Black and Joseph is that vampire guy from the same book. Jacob had wanted to be a potato, but the gunny sack wrapping from the classified pouch shipment boxes just didn't work well.

Rebecca constructed only one Halloween costume this year because we only had the material for one. Then, then Saturday a week before Halloween, she broke five sewing machine needles in one day, completely using up the stash she had brought from the U.S., and there was not enough time to order more. We were now set for another adventure in Brasilia.

Brasilia is a planned city, but the plan doesn't really fit with the way most people would think a city should be laid out. In the center of town, there is a highway with no exits with road running parallel to it without any entrances, or so it seems. Basically, road don't have names, shops and homes are set in Blocos and Quadras, and it's very difficult to turn left. Also, most shops are small, one type of product shops. For example, the fabric shops do not have sewing supplies, just fabrics. The sewing machine shops have parts for machines but are not located in the same bloco or shopping center as the fabric stores. The other thing is that shopping areas are based on common themes (for example light fixtures or fabrics) and are grouped together. Most surprising is that a city that was built with the intent to make everyone drive everywhere, there are very few places to actually park a car at shopping areas.

We did manage to purchase needles, and then headed over to the fabric district and explored five or six different fancy fabric stores that were all placed next to each other. The first shop was a costume shop. It had no fabrics, but we discovered a kind of cross between a craft store and a costume supply shop without any make-up (just face paint). Of course there would be costume shops with craft supplies considering the elaborate outfits that are created for Carnival.

Then we went to the dress fabric stores and saw some of the most beautiful (and expensive) fabrics I had ever seen. This must have been the fancy fabric stores. None of them had everyday cotton prints, just linens, silks, garbadines, and high end polyester prints. We were looking for faux fur for Jacob's costume, and we happened into a shop with some very friendly and talkative ladies who just happened to be the only one of the shops that had some fake fur in the basement. We spent several minutes with them exchanging words trying to learn how to say in Portuguese the various types of fabrics. I think it will be fun to return and explore some more.
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Week 11: Sack of Emergency

Saturday was a pretty busy day for us. We packed in shopping at Sam's Club, picking up the car from the shop and helping to decorate the church for the Primary's Halloween party in the morning.

Our car had been in the shop for about a week and a half. About two weeks after we purchased the car, the engine started to overheat. I think it might have had something to do with fact that there was no oil in the engine, a small detail I forgot to check during the purchase process. It also needed a new clutch pedal cable and some adjustments to the air conditioning. Fortunately, all of these items were covered under the purchase warranty, and the from the shop sent a tow truck to our home to pick up the car. (Getting the car to the shop was the hardest part due to my work schedule, the lack of a second car, and a small language barrier in trying to explain why I couldn't drive an overheating car.)

Well, when I retrieved the car, the warning light turned on letting me know that it was low on fuel. I decided that there must be just enough gas left to get home, maybe. Fortunately, Rebecca chose to follow me home in the minivan we are borrowing because I ran out of gas just before reaching the bridge to Lago Sul.

It turns out that the route that I took home had no gas stations, and even though I took a wrong turn and ended up driving past the U.S. Embassy, I couldn't get gas there because I forgot my I.D. badge to get into the compound.

I pulled over, thinking at first that maybe the engine had a mysterious stalling issue, then remembered that it had no fuel. Rebecca pulled up behind me, and she waited with the car while I went to the nearest gas station to find out if I could get a bottle of fuel for my car.

When I got to the station and explained to the attendent that I did not need her to put gas in the minivan (yes, all pumps are full-service in Brasilia), but that my other car had run out of gas in Portuguese (again, more vocabulary we did not cover in class), she suddenly lit up and told me I needed a "Saco de Emergencia". She then ripped a bag off a stack and asked me how much fuel I wanted. The sack of emergency has spout on one end and a few holes for grabbing and carrying. It cost about US$8 for the sack and a gallon of fuel. The difficult part was holding the bag shut while driving back to the disabled car. The sack does not come with a closure device. Fortunately, the minivan is an automatic.

Back at the car, Rebecca says that no one slowed down or stopped to offer assistance. In fact, several drivers honked and barely managed to swerve in time to miss the car before merging. I guess flashing lights, a raised hood, and a person standing on the berm next to the car were not enough to show that this car was not going to move. It didn't help that the car had stopped in the left lane of the highway.

Transferring fuel to car was as easy as pouring a stiff plastic bag of liquid into a wide-mouthed jar. The car started right up, and we finished the drive home. I am not sure that "sacks of emergency" would work in the U.S. due to the different type of gas tank spouts there, but it certainly was handy in helping me get my car going again. And I didn't have to worry about returning a gas can.
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Week 11: Pumpkin Carving

Halloween is a popular holiday here in Brasilia, but only really practiced on a small scale at various parties. Trick-or-Treating and pumpkin carving have not caught on. It might be a matter of the lack of resources. For example, we have been searching for a pumpkin or some other type of squash that might work well for making a Jack-O'-Lantern, but we were unsuccessful. In fact, we didn't even find very many pictures of carved pumpkins or other Halloween themed decorations either. This is the closest thing we could find at the grocery stores and produce markets.

It's an orange-colored squash, called "abobora" (ah-BO-bo-rah) in Portuguese. It has the general shape of a pumpkin, but it has definitely been cultivated for eating, not for carving like the pumpkins found in the U.S. The skin and flesh are very thick and the hollow area for the seeds is small. The overall size is more saucer-like, too.

Well, trying to carve and then light such an object did not seem like fun. I saw a few pitiful examples of Jack-O'-Lanterns at the school's Halloween carnival. This type of pumpkin just would not do. It would be too much work for a unsatisfactory result.

So we decided to try watermelons, which turned out to be very easy (and tasty) for hollowing out and then cutting faces. Emptying out the larger watermelon kept Sam busy for about 40 minutes. Next year I would like to a get several of the little watermelons and make ensemble. We also plan on trying to grow pumpkins in our vegetable garden.
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