Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Funfairs and fazendas

This week I got to do something I've been wanting to do ever since we arrived in Brazil - go to a children's party.

I'm no stranger to children's parties. I've enjoyed or endured plenty in my time, and have even been known to host the odd one myself on occasion. They're pretty straightforward affairs really. You get a bunch of kids, feed them some unhealthy snacks, make them run around until they feel sick and then give them a slice of cake and pack them off home to pester their parents until the sugar high wears off and then sleep through most of the following day.

Alternatively, you can hire one of those helpful little venues which go by the name of Chucky's, or Funky Fun House, or Happy Hal's House of Happiness, where an entire pack of children can be over-excited and over-fed on an industrial scale and where someone else gets to do the cleaning up afterwards. All you have to do is work the extra shifts to earn the extra cash to pay the extra-large credit card bill that will make it all seem like a really bad idea two weeks after it's all over.

In Brazil things are pretty much the same, except more so. Children's birthdays are a big deal out here and as a lot of the parents at St Paul's are, shall we say, quite well off, a lot of the parties are lavish affairs more akin to society balls than children's parties. Even for the younger ones, a typical party will be huge, with blanket invitations going out to everyone in the year, as well as friends from other years, or from outside school and a large part of the extended family as well.

They're not all like this though and while the one we went to this week was on a much larger scale than anything I was used to from England, it was, by St Paul's standards, probably a rather modest affair. And unlike most of the invitations we've had to date, this one was actually from someone we knew and whose daughter - the birthday girl - was a good friend of David's. It was at a place called Spasso Splash and this is where all the photos are from. Basically, it was an entire indoor activity centre, complete with roller coaster, chair ride, tirolesa (flying fox) and various other similar things. There was an area full of computers and games consoles to entertain the older kids and a special soft-play area for the very little ones (and David who made the ball pool his own personal domain).

And food. So much food. Whichever way I turned there was almost always someone offering me some tasty-looking snack to eat, or a soft drink to wash it down with, or a glass of Champagne to wash the soft drink down with. I started quite modestly, accepting the occasional mini pizza or pão de queijo but after a while I realised they had these little baskets you could stuff full of snacks so you didn't have to be constantly trying to take a snack with one hand while balancing your glass of Coke in the other. After that over-indulging became really easy. By the time it came to the cutting the cake I was full, and could barely manage to finish the three bits of cake I found myself presented with.

Sadly, this was about the time david finally plucked up the courage to go on the roller coaster ride and I was, of course, required to go with him as James was far too bust playing on the computer to do it for me. However, after five times in a row, even David agreed it was enough and I was able to escape before either my stomach or my back had time to take their revenge. I am such an old man. But at least I didn't fall fast asleep in the taxi on the way home like everyone else!

So, that was my first taste of a children's party Brazilian style and I have to say I enjoyed it quite a lot; clearly not as much as David who promptly announced he was going to have his party there as well, but enough to be happy enough to take my kids along to more of them in future. There is a small voice of conscience in there somewhere telling me it's a bit cheeky to let my children enjoy all this hospitality when I know perfectly well I shall not be reciprocating when the time comes, no matter what David says. But there's also a cynic in there and he has a louder voice and he's telling me that as long as complete strangers are happy to invite my children to their parties, who am I to stand in their way?

Anyway, that's not all we did this week. We also spent a very enjoyable Saturday out at the fazenda (farm) of some of our friends, Nick and Isabel. Actually, the fazenda belongs to Isabel's parents, but they had it for the weekend and offered us the chance to escape the city and breathe some fresh air for the day while sitting by the pool and eating some delicious food. What kind of complete fools would we have to be to pass up an offer like that?

I won't bore you with all the details of our day - it will just make you jealous - but needless to say it was fabulous and only the need to get back home to put the boys to bed forced us to leave. But one thing I do want to talk about is trees.

Nick took me on a little tour of the place and showed me all the different things they had growing there and being a complete city boy I was totally awed by what I saw. Things just grow here in Brazil, just like that. If you throw away some seeds and they happen to land in some soil, they start to grow. The problem here is not getting things to grow, but getting them to stop. I know this because we've just had the gardener in at home, cutting and trimming and rediscovering bits of the garden that have been hidden for months by plants that simply weren't there when we arrived in July.

Anyway, I decided to include some photos of some of the stuff I was shown on Saturday. Believe me, they were so much more impressive in real life.

Easily the most impressive one in my opinion were the lychee trees. In England, lychees grow in Sainsbury's, in little packs of ten or so, and cost an absolute fortune. Here there were four trees completely weighed down by clumps of lychees - maybe a hundred bunches or so on each tree - but sadly they were all about one week away from being ripe enough to pick. Also, rather hopelessly, I seem to have forgotten to take any photos of them. So here is the fabulously textured bark of a cork tree - shortly before David ripped it to pieces trying to make his own cork!

Other delights were several rows of coffee plants - just imagine growing your own coffee - mango trees, banana trees, avocado trees, the aforementioned cork trees and a couple of others that are a bit more exotic. The first is the jaca, although it is more commonly known as jackfruit outside Brazil. The fruit is huge and bobbly and although we did pick one, we actually forgot to eat it so I can't tell you what it tastes like. Sorry.

The other is called jabuticaba. It produces small dark berries that look a bit like cherries, but the strange thing is that instead of growing in bunches from the ends of branches like normal fruit, they grow on the actual trunk and branches of the tree and make it look like the tree has some terrible fungal infection. The berries are actually very nice though. You bite into them, suck out the soft white insides and then throw away the outer skin. I did take a photo of this one, but as it had been picked clean about a week before, it looks really uninspiring - look it up on google images if you really want to see one if full bloom. Instead, here's a photo of a couple of labourers employing traditional logging methods.

And as usual, at the end of the day, it was left up to the men to carry all the stuff home...

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