Lights Out

20120616-094339 AM.jpgIt sounded like a firework going off. CRACK-BOOM! Francisco, my brother-in-law stopped stringing the new fence to let out a “yee-haw” shout to the neighbors across the valley and I settled back into my reading, convinced that it was the usual celebratory firecracker. It wasn’t a holiday, but that doesn’t stop Brazilians; they’ll set off firecrackers with the smallest provocation. You gotta love a people like that. My sense of conviction evaporated when Tida, my sister-in-law, came outside with her trail of ducklings behind to say that there was no power in the house.

We tried calling the power company from my husband’s work. What ensued was the usual bureaucratic discussion where we explained that we didn’t have a bill on hand, but this was our address, this was where our valley was located outside the city, this was the bill-holder’s name, and they stated they were unable to help until they had an account number. We drove home, jealously eyeing the lights of our neighbors and turned down the road into the our pitch-black valley.

A full moon blessed the clear sky, and the path into our house was clearly lit (honestly, since we haven’t gotten around to installing a yard light, conditions were better than usual). I walked in the door and dove by memory in the direction of the drawer with the emergency candles and flashlights. The electrical grid here in Brazil isn’t that strong, so we know the drill. With a RIR-RIR-RIR I wound up the battery-free flashlight that we had brought from the States and started working on lighting candles. Francielli (age 5) found this very fascinating and uttered her characteristic “Uau!–Why, Tia, what is that in your hand?” “It’s a flashlight, Fran. See? I push here and it turns on. ” “Uau! I’ve never seen a flashlight that sounds like that!” she said shaking her head in disbelief.

Armed with light and with Fran still trailing behind examining my bizarre tool, I went hunting for the electric bill with the prized account number. Then Francisco and I proceeded to play our usual game of Portañol “Who’s On First” and this time it went a little like this:

Me: Here’s our phone bill so that you can call.

Francisco: But where’s the company phone number on here?

Me: Let’s see… it’s…. Nope. This bill is just a receipt; it doesn’t have one. Hold on.

Me: Here you go. Here’s a copy of a bill from Theo’s parents’ house that we use to prove our mailing address.

Francisco: But I need to have the bill for the farm.

Me: Right. You need this bill from in town because it has the phone number, and the other one because it has our farm’s account number.

Francisco: But here on this bill it has our name and… where’s the phone number here?

Me: There’s no phone number there. You need this other one.

Francisco: This other one? But how many electricity accounts do you have?

Me: One. This one isn’t for our account, but you need it. This one has the phone number and the other one has our farm’s account number.

Francisco: So this is for our account. I see our name on top. Where’s the phone number on this one?

I abandoned Francisco and any attempt at a further explanation in my broken Portuguese and went looking for my husband to make the phone call. He and Francisco went outside to call from a point that had good cell phone reception, and then went down to open the gate for the repair truck. It was 7:30pm, and neither of us had eaten so I started making dinner.

I had purchased some meat in town just before the stores closed for the day. After three days of eating sausage for dinner I was desperate for a change. I explained the situation to the store clerk: “I’d like to buy some meat. Any meat, please just not sausage, since that’s all we have at home.” She gave me a knowing smile and leaned into the meat locker, her small frame disappearing to her shins into its concavity. I could see over her shoulder that it was pretty empty and our options weren’t good. “We have….. turkey wings, chicken wings…. sausage…. and sausage,” her laughter echoing up from its depths. “That’s fine. Give me the wings.”

So here I was in the dark with a bag of frozen meat. I’ve made wiser purchases in my life. I opened the bag and was chagrined to discover that I had ended up with turkey wings and these wings were not the humble wings of my Thanksgiving dinners past. These were monstrous, dinosaurian wings. These were wings that could have dazed a T-Rex, wings with biceps larger than my own. I assessed the situation: enormous wings, too large to cook thoroughly on a stove top, all frozen into one block.

I am gifted with the unique talent of perserverance. It is a blessing when completing a tough job. It is a curse when faced with a disaster of gastronomic proportions. A sane, normal person would have given up at this point and settled for one more night of sausage. Instead, fixated on some imaginary recipe I dropped those legs in boiling water to separate them, and then set to carving up the steaming, scalding hot dinosaur wings into manageable sizes by candlelight. My husband, employing the seismic detector that only spouses have, sensed the impending emotional explosion and moved in to help with the frustrating process. Together we lit the pilotless oven and breaded those wings.

The repair truck arrived, and my husband exited to greet him. They relayed shouts from the power post to the doorway, attempting to resolve the problem. It became clear that the problem was somewhere in the line spanning the valley and it would have to wait until daylight.

It soon became clear that checking the “golden” tone of breading would be even harder to do by candlelight than the initial separation of the wings. We waited, and finally decided–swayed by our rumbling tummies–that charred on the wingtips meant that time was up. My husband went back outside to finish talking to the repair man, and I dove into the food. It was 8:30pm; my hunger was narrowing my vision. I poked at it, pried and levered with my fork, struggling to pull some of the tough meat from that wing. Ultimately my base brain and its need for sustenance overrode my social training, and I discarded all forms of delicacy and cavewomaned my teeth into that wing. My husband walked back into the kitchen and gave me a startled glance. “There’s no delicate way to do this,” I justified around a mouthful of meat. He laughed, and grabbed his own piece. “Ok, then. So it got done well enough?” and he moved another candle onto the table. With a sinking feeling in my stomach I realized that there was another reason that the meat might have been tough to pull off the bones, “Yes, I think so….” You see, if checking to see if breading is golden in candlelight is hard, checking to see if the meat is still pink was even harder still. Now in the brighter light of the second candle it looked done, sort of. Who could tell? My primordial hunger vanished.

Francisco entered, outraged that the repair man was unable to solve our problem and dead-set on calling the company to complain. “What’s the phone number?” My husband, much wiser in the ways of the world, jotted the number down for him on a separate piece of paper. Genius.

We served some leftover beans and rice and vegetables onto our plates, and went to bed. The dogs dined happily on dinosaur wings in the moonlight.

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