The curious case of the banana bees…



As you might just gather from the title, I am back in Brazil for the Christmas and New Year season and, as I write, Summer is showing its teeth. The weather in the last week of Spring was very warm… no, let`s be clear it was HOT for Spring even for Rio de Janeiro. Most days have been in the upper 30s (37 – 39 degrees C) with a couple of days topping 40oC. But conditions were such that there was the opposite effect of UK`s “wind-chill factor” – not quite sure how to describe it! – and the “sensation” was officially described as “around 50oC”. The heat has continued into the early Summer weeks.

For an expatriate Brit that is – officially! – TOO HOT for comfort. Yes, of course, I can get into an air-conditioned room, as I am now, writing this, and travelling from A to B is OK in an air-conditioned car. But, even so, one has to spend some time `in the weather`. By the way, for those of my Green persuasion, one does not have to worry as much about one`s Carbon Footprint as far as energy use is concerned here in Brazil. Over 75% of the country`s energy is created using hydropower. We have visited the Iguacu Falls Power station once when being “tourists” and I have to say it is pretty impressive.

What is irritating, however, is the knowledge that quite a significant proportion of the population chooses not to pay for their electricity – even many, otherwise `honest`, citizens, think nothing of “having a cat”. At first, I thought the expression was an indication that Brazilians were as crazy about their pets as the British. WRONG. Having a “cat” is the euphemism for organising an unofficial connection to the network – in other words for stealing your electricity from the grid. (The same expression can also be used for stealing your water supply too, but I think that is rather less common.) The trouble is, of course, that if your electricity is “free” then you probably leave your air-conditioning on more than most. So, we poor mugs who pay for our electricity end up paying quite a lot more than we should (and suffering quite a few power-outages when air-cons are at full-tilt.)

In some areas the Water companies and, to a lesser extent, the Electricity suppliers, have made a bit of an effort to regularise supplies and will challenge (some) residents who are flouting the law about becoming law-abiding citizens. However, there are quite a few “Favellas”, where the employees of such companies would really be risking their lives, if they were to try and put in proper meters. There really is quite a degree of lawlessness here in Brazil.

I suppose those “otherwise honest” citizens who do have a “cat” can offset at least some of their natural guilt with reference to the large-scale corruption carried out at the highest levels in Brazilian society. For example, the last four Governors of Rio State have been imprisoned for massive corruption over many years, including the last SERVING Governor and the serving Mayor of Niteroi who has recently been imprisoned on corruption charges. Also, recently, a whole bunch of policemen were arrested very publicly on corruption charges. “So, what if we do `borrow` a few Reals worth of electricity – look at what the politicians get away with” – must be the mind-set that can justify the process.

One of the benefits of the hot weather is that one can spend time in the swimming pool and I am pleased to say I managed a swim on both Christmas day and New Year`s Eve (as well as other days of course!) It did seem a little odd the other day swimming gently back and forth – it is a very small pool! – lit by the stars and the flashing seasonal lights, seen through a small stand of banana trees.

The Banana Trees.

Talking of banana trees, some years ago (I think nearly five years, now) we went for a drive and a walk in the nearby countryside. It certainly was not summertime, as it would have been too hot for walking during the day! Anyway, at the side of the road was a small seedling banana tree, self-seeded on the verge. Having decided it would make an interesting addition to our garden, I found a large flat stone with which to dig it out of the ground and we planted it when we got home. It turns out it was the wrong place to plant it – too sandy and free draining and it did very little for ages, but it did throw up a few new shoots. We left the original where it was and planted one of the shoots in ground that had had an unsuccessful orange bush that eventually had perished from some orange-bush disease. The ground was, however, banana-tree friendly and the banana flourished, sending up around a dozen new shoots but, sadly, no bananas.

This year, however, I arrived in Brazil to find one of the individual banana shoots with bananas formed and growing. The thing is, however, that they are a long time in the ripening thereof and may not even be ready for eating until after I fly back to England! Fingers crossed I may get to eat a couple of home-grown bananas! Not being used to banana-raising I have been taking care to watch how this bunch is going on. It is not a big bunch if you compare it to the old “Day-o” calypso… “six-foot; seven-foot, eight-foot bunch, Day, daylight and I wanna go home” Ours is less than a two-foot bunch.

What I didn`t know is that there are specialist banana-bees. As you can probably see in the picture they are tiny bees and completely jet-black. I thought, at first, they were simply bluebottle-type flies, but close inspection shows they are true bees in shape and behaviour. You can see that the bunch has its own single flower on a long stem, that gets longer as the flower develops. Each day three or four petals open up and curl upwards revealing the nectar filled flower parts. If a petal is being slow to open the bees will nibble a hole in the bottom of the petal at the pointy-end of the flower and some of the nectar drips down finding its way to the hungry bees, so there is always a little nectar-action.

Once the bee-carried pollen has fertilised the seeds presumably they must find their way up the sort of umbilical chord upon which the flower hangs, gradually growing longer as time goes by. I can only hope that the very warm weather we are having now will speed up the ripening process – it would be very disappointing to have to go home to England without tasting our very own bananas!

Celebration of the 70s

By way of a change I can also report that we have had a musical night out in Rio. We went, a few evenings ago, to a show just labelled as the “70s”. An ensemble of approximately 25-30 singers and dancers regaled us with songs from the 70s, including the Carpenters, the Bee Gees, John Lennon`s “Imagine”, a burlesque version of Caberet, played for laughs and one of my favourites “YMCA” which brought back memories of 1970s Liberal East Midlands annual dinners for some reason!

Virtually all the music was live, with the musicians split into small groups around the modest-sized theatre. The musical director was on the keyboard and, as well as conducting four players in his little cubby-hole, a video camera carried his image to other musicians in other areas keeping all to time, including a couple of percussionists not far away to our right. It was a two and a half hour show with a short intermission, after which the journeymen singers were joined by three “girls” who used to perform as a group in the 1970s in Brazil – call the “Freneticas”. They must have been pretty close to my age, so they were being a little careful on stage, moving about, but their voices were still going strong. The Brazilian audience loved them, it was almost as if the Beverly Sisters had walked onto a British stage. Clearly a successful show, it has been going continuously for about a year, mostly to sell-out audiences and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

In addition to the international hits, amongst which Bohemian Rhapsody was included in excellent rendition, there were also many purely Brazilian hits, some of which earned rapturous applause from the audience, some of which were very “pointed” in the light of the recent Presidential election – made me wonder how long it might be before the show drew the displeasure of the new Brazilian leader. Remember that the Brazilian dictatorship was still thoroughly in charge in the 70s and quite a few of the songs were censored at the time and the new man-in-charge has been known to praise the dictatorship period, so I am pretty sure at least some of the heavy applause was more than a little satirical in nature.

It really was a great evening out and we had a bonus on the way home. It was Sunday and there had been several groups of Carnival “blocos” practising their sets on the Plaza near the ferry terminal. At least a couple of them belonged in Niteroi, so they came back from Rio on the same ferry that we were on. When the ferry set off, so did the music and we had one “bloco” sitting just behind us, so we finished the evening with impromptu samba tunes on sax and trumpets with drum accompaniment for the 20 minute ferry journey. A lively evening from start to finish!!


About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
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