Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Die grosse Überraschung

Written to Open Road by Oli Brown

My record royalties right now are four times stronger than when I was the Madonna of my day, ... Now it's over the top. I mean the records, they all hold up through the years.
- Tony Bennett

Wanting to avoid both the specter and the reality of rising at 01:30 and hitting the dirt road by 02:00 in order to arrive at São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport in time to pick up Lone at 05:45 on Saturday morning, I chose instead to spend Friday night at Caesar Business Guarulhos. Fortunately, Lone's plane landed early, and, after a short wait, a moderately droopy-eyed Lone, sporting new Harry Potter glasses to match my own, emerged from the behind the glass international arrivals doors looking remarkably spry.

Four hours later, after a quick grocery run in São Luiz do Paraitinga, we arrived at Alfheim, floating in on our newly manicured entrance road. A combination of the leveler from Natividade da Serra and 34 truckloads of cascalha have transformed our previously-intimidating-for-non-four-wheel drive vehicles, 1.8 km entrance road into a buttery-smooth expressway. Total cost for this transformation: R$2,500 (€971 or $1,434). Best of all, we did not have to lift a finger.

On Monday we traveled to São Paulo for die grosse Überraschung (Lone's BIG surprise): an evening with Tony Bennett. Simply unforgettable. We should all be so lucky to be grooving like Anthony Dominick Benedetto when we are 83. What charisma…the consummate performer. It is easy to understand why Frank Sinatra named him “the best singer in the business.”

The next day I flew to Ribeirão Preto to finish up some business, while Lone returned to Alfheim with our new, German intern, Alena Profit, who will spend a month at our fazenda in order to gain experience with biodynamic agriculture before beginning her degree course in psychology at Leibniz Universität Hannover. Unfortunately, as it has been raining cats and dogs (> 120 ml), Lone was not comfortable crossing the partially washed-out bridge in front of the entrance to our fazenda, so she and Alena turned the car around and spent the night in Vargem Grande, at the home of Fatima, the night-school teacher and owner of the local Internet cafe. Emboldened by the light of day, they returned this morning and crossed the bridge without incident, though Lone decided against tempting fate by crossing the stone bridge on our property as the water was knee-deep.

Today Lone took pictures of our two groups of piglets: the older ones, which seem to be suffering from an as-yet-unidentified illness (a bacteria?), and the newborns, which look marvelous, so that we can send them to a couple of our veterinarian contacts for diagnosis.

My tasks for the week include purchasing the tractor and ordering more organic hog feed (a not altogether simple task as IBD does not distinguish between producers who produce and consume their crops and those who produce and sell their crops).

Finally, two giant shout-outs:
  • to Emmanuel Rengade and Filipa, whose second child, Tomas Georges, was born on October 24th;
  • and to Brazil's handsomest lawyer-cowboy, Márcio Cabral Magano, who celebrated his birthday on October 27th, and is now a day older, a day wiser and none the worse for the wear.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shopping for bull

Written to Rattle and Hum by U2

Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock.
- Will Rogers

On Saturday I visited Fazenda Santana da Serra, also referred to as Gir Leiteiro FB, a beautiful dairy and coffee farm located in Mococa à Cajuru, approx. 70 km from Ribeirão Preto. Upon arrival, I was met by the owner, José de Castro Rodrigues Netto, and his foreman, José Carlos, both of whom spent approx. three hours showing me their cattle, a combination of Gir Leiteiro and Girolando. The family has worked with these breeds since 1933, and the results are impressive. Many of their top cattle fetch prices ranging from R$40,000 to R$125,000 (€15,646 or $23,396 to €48,895 or $73,112); some of their rarer semen recently sold for R$7,500 (€8,228 or $12,304) per dose. Needless to say, these are truly exceptional animals. One of his dairy cattle produces more than 12,000 liters during a single lactation, which corresponds to approx. 40 liters per day for approx. 305 days. To put this in perspective, the average production for dairy cows in the US in 2005 was 8,800 kg (19,576 pounds). This cow definitely got milk!

Needless to say, I was not looking for anything quite so expensive, but I did find a stunning young bull, which I hope to be able to purchase in the coming weeks. The idea would be to breed this purebred Gir bull with a solid group of Girolando heifers.

In a positive coincidence, it turns out that Fazenda Santana da Serra uses the same tractor, an Agrale 4100.4, that we are thinking of purchasing. Fortunately, they rated it highly. It is always nice when you can get real-world feedback on a major purchase before taking the plunge. As an alternative, I am also considering buying a John Deere Gator™ TH 6x4 Diesel, which has the disadvantage of not being a tractor, but the advantage of costing slightly more than half as much as the Agrale. Boys and their toys...

Back at Alfheim, Clair and our newest employee, Dirlei, have begun planting the napier seedlings, and Marcos and his crew are finishing up the third house, the water troughs and our churrasqueira. If everything goes according to plan -and when does that not happen- they should complete the three projects this week.

Finally, Lone will return from her globetrotting and assorted political intrigues on Saturday, when I will pick her up at São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport. We will relax at Fazenda Alfheim before heading to São Paulo on Monday, where we will spend Monday and Tuesday. I have a big surprise planned for Lone on Monday (which she has been unable to guess despite her considerable posturing), and she has her monthly ladies' lunch on Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stuck in the mud

Written to A Donny Hathaway Collection by Donny Hathaway

A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.
- Muhammad Ali

This past weekend got off to an inauspicious start when the pickup truck I borrowed to transport napier seedlings got stuck in the mud at 22:30 on Friday…approx. 4-7 km from Fazenda Alfheim. Undiscouraged by my plight, I grabbed my backpack and figured I could hoof it home in under an hour. A few steps into my journey, however, I realized that without the aid of the moon, which was nowhre to be found, or the ever-present One Earth wind-up flashlight we keep charged in the boot of our Ford Ecosport 2.0 4Wd 16V, I had no chance of making it even five meters down the road...much less home. In the end, there was nothing else to do but sleep in the pickup. After a bit of tossing and turning, I managed to get close to six hours of shuteye. In the dawn's early light, my situation looked distinctly less precarious. As it turned out, there was a house not too far back down the road. After befriending the watchdogs, I rousted two locals, and with two hoes and a shovel in hand we proceeded to dig out the truck. Less than 20 minutes later, I was on my way. Note to self: be sure to swing by and drop off a piglet to my two Samaritans…the least I can do.

In other, more positive, news, we succeeded in contracting Dirlei, a local from Vargem Grande, as a full-time farm hand. He came by with his wife and youngest child on Monday, a holiday, Nossa Senhora Aparecida, which commemorates the Virgin Mary as Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida, Patron Saint of Brazil, to inform me that he will begin work at Fazenda Alfheim on Monday, October 19th. Together with Clair, who has previously worked with Dirlei for years, and Rosana, this brings team Alfheim to three full-time employees. Very exciting…and should allow us to move forward more quickly. And there is still so much work to do.

So much, in fact, that we are contemplating the purchase of a tractor, specifically an Agrale 4100.4, a small, family-farm tractor with 4WD. Will study this and other options over the next couple of weeks before making a decision. For her part, Lone informed me from Hamlet's moderland that she thinks she will make an excellent tractor chauffeur. Lone's self-assessed and self-professed expertise notwithstanding, the addition of a tractor certainly would solve a couple of gigantic logistical problems, such as how to transport more than 1,000 fence posts to the far field, approx. 3 km from the main house, and how to move a cement ring weighing approx. 100 kg to pasture 8, approx. 1.5 km from the main house, so that it can be converted into a water trough for the cattle.

Finally, on Saturday I will be visiting a couple of dairy farms that sell Gir.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Obama, Michelle, Oprah, Lula...and Lone

Written to Duets: An American Classic by Tony Bennett

We're competing against other great cities: Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo. That's why it's important that we all join together on the final path to Copenhagen. Having the support of President Obama is key.
- Richard M. Daley

What Richard M. Daley could not have foreseen at the time of his citation was that he was up against forces far more forceful than simply other great cities. A day after Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey descended upon the Danish capital, Lone arrived in her moderland in ample time to impact the outcome of the selection of the 2016 Summer Olympic host-city race. Beyond her many obvious charms, Lone brought with her a rare 100% success rate in Summer Olympic city selections, having been in UK in 2005 when the momentous, and unexpected, decision was taken to award London the 2012 Summer Games ahead of the then-frontrunner, Paris.

It is true that Brazil had sent its ridiculously popular President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to Copenhagen, but Lone's influence extends to the recesses of Europe's oldest monarchy. Her brother, Jan Blichert-Hansen (far left), a frequent guest to Brazil, is afdelingsleder (Department Head) of the Kongelige Repræsentationslokaler (Royal Reception Rooms) at Christiansborg Palace. In addition to hobnobbing with the Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II (Margrethe Alexandrine Þorhildur Ingrid), on a regular basis, Jan is intimately involved in managing significant portions of most official visits as well as being responsible for all visits to the Queen's tapestries, one of the most popular exhibits in Denmark. As one Lilliputian example of Jan's Brobdingnagian influence, the Fazenda Alfheim blog has been given an international exclusive: a photo of the tea cup that Michelle Obama drank from during her recent, fruitless, visit. As if such a happening were not already sufficient to make me forget hogs for a week, Jan also provided us with two additional insider photos, both taken by Keld Navntoft Sørensen, of America's stunning First Lady. In the first photo, Michelle is seen with Margrethe II, while in the second she is together with Frederik Crown Prince of Denmark (to Michelle's left), his wife, Mary Donaldson (to Michelle's right), and the Queen's husband, Henri de Laborde de Monpézat (far right with gold tie).

Unfortunately for Chicago, the outcome was sealed as soon as Lone landed…even Oprah was helpless to alter the decision. In the end, the Marvelous City was awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics. Coming as it will on top of Brazil's ascension to its almost certain ranking as the world's fifth largest economy (and seventh or eighth leading oil producer), and Brazil's staging of the 2014 World Cup, the first time Brazil will host the tournament since 1950, it would indeed appear as though our adopted homeland is poised for a most compelling decade.