Monthly Archives: June 2011

Those of you who read the foreign language BBC News sister sites will have noticed that the language services are, one by one, going through a process to bring them in line with Big Brother – the English news site.

The latest one to go through the standardisation process is BBC Brasil – the BBC’s Portuguese-language Brazil-facing news site.

The process is known within the BBC as “gelification” after the new system which is called GEL (Global Experience Language) – an attempt to bring all the language websites into alignment, bearing in mind that some of them are still using a very old version of the content production system (CPS) – like the Azeris.

As with the other languages, Verdana is making way for Arial as the BBC’s standard online font. started the trend, going through its own metamorphosis in July 2010 – and although there have been mixed reviews, I think most people have agreed that it was worth it.

It’s certainly gone a long way since 1999 – as you can see (picture – right)!

As I prepare to leave the BBC after four-and-a-half years here, it’s a funny sensation knowing that things are going to carry on without me – that they’re going to continue to evolve and, hopefully for the better.

At the same time, the number of language services at the BBC has dropped from 44 when I joined to 27 now after massive cuts – partly to fund Arabic and Persian TV – and now as part of the government’s short-sighted hacking of the state budget. A massive blow for the BBC World Service – and one that I hope can be halted, if not reversed.

But, this is BBC Brasil’s day – and let it not be overcast by my misgivings about what’s happening with rest of the World Service.

It has a bright new “gelified” future ahead of it – with bigger videos, more interactivity and most importantly, the same high-quality articles that will now be easier to read and more aesthetically pleasing.


With Brazil’s Amazônia region scarcely out of the news recently, and what with the country’s on-going crise-de-cœur about whether it should be saving the rainforest or dragging more of its most destitute citizens out of poverty, it got me reminiscing about the central figure to all these stories – the staggeringly beautiful wildlife that the country has to offer.

The diversity of Brazil’s flora and fauna is remarkable. Over 40,000 species of flora (including fungi) and many thousands of species of fauna, including 1,800 species of birds – 300+ of them unique within Brazil’s borders.

To be honest, I just scratched the surface. Here are a few of the wonderful examples of Brazilian wildlife that I managed to capture in January 2011.


The striking “88” butterfly is the photo that every tourist going to Foz do Iguaçu comes home with. Even the most conservative accounts give Brazil about 6,000 different species of butterfly. Here are a few more:

Butterflies at Puerto de Iguazú

These beauties (above) were cooling themselves at the Iguaçu waterfalls.

Below, we have a beautiful example of the ruddy daggerwing (Marpesia petreus), which I glimpsed in Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Botânico.

Brazil’s butterflies and moths make it a must-see for any lepidopteraphile. Like Siproeta stelenes – otherwise known as the common malachite butterfly:

Butterfly in the Jardim Botânico, Curitiba

Enough butterflies – there are even cooler lizards…

And some of them are quite big, like this tegu lizard

Big lizard, Iguaçu

Not to mention Brazil’s vast number of varied, exotic birdlife – including this ariel toucan, which I snapped sat on a cannonball tree in Rio’s Jardim Botânico

Ariel toucan, Rio de Janeiro

And these stunning plush-crested jays, also at the Iguaçu falls…

Plush-crested jays

And these kiskadees are everywhere in Brazil, where they are known as bem-te-vi (“see you well”). This one was pictured at the Oskar Niemeyer museum in Niterói, across the bay from central Rio.

Kiskadee, Niterói

Brazil is also home to the world’s largest living rodent, the capybara (or locally, capivara). These ones can be found munching on the marshy banks of the River Barigui in Curitiba, Paraná.

Capivara, Curitiba

It goes to show that no matter where you are, you can’t escape Brazil’s stunning – and sometimes surprising – flora and fauna.


12 June is O Dia dos Namorados - Brazil's Valentine's Day

Picture the scene: I’m sitting at work in Bush House in London when the postman comes up to me with an enormous box in his hands.

“Are you Ben Tavener?” he asks. “Sign here, please.”

Intrigued, my colleagues crowd round to see what all the fuss is about – surely only the Queen has two birthdays…

I open the box and inside is a card, a big heart-shaped balloon and an enormous bunch of red roses. What a wonderful surprise!

A video of me being embarrassed by the whole event can be found here.

Forget 14 February; move over St Valentine – 12 June is O Dia dos Namorados, “the day of loved-ones”, and every year on this day Brazilians dig deep to open their hearts to their nearest-and-dearest and remind them how much they love them.

Of course, they’re digging deep in their wallets, too.

In fact Brazilians spend more on this day than on any other day except for Christmas (Natal) and Mother’s Day (Dia das Mães).

It sounds cynical to mention it, and I’m not ungrateful in the least, but O Dia dos Namorados is, as you can imagine, as much as of cash cow in Brazil as Valentine’s Day is in the West, and perhaps even a little bit more so.

Each and every Brazilian website with the slightest chance of possibly selling you something for your namorado or namorada is guaranteed to have masses of banners and pop-ups straining to grab your attention – literally resorting to anything – naked women, pictures of irrestible chocolates… you name it.

As this is my first Dia dos Namorados I thought I’d celebrate it properly regardless of how strange it feels to be marking the occasion in June.

But it wasn’t as simple as just ordering something for my loved-one online on a local website – and it turned out to be the second time my burgeoning Portuguese has been truly put to the test. (The first time being in Curitiba airport in January.)

Anyway – in the blink of an eye, it was gone. Funny to think I’ll be in Brazil for O Dia dos Namorados 2012.

On that note, it’s now three weeks to go until I leave for Brazil – and, utterly excitingly, my year-long student visa is ready.

It’s all feeling very real now…


Brazil's Consulate General in Central London, just off Oxford St

With just a month to go before I board a plane and embark on a new life in Brazil, it’s not unusual that I should be starting to get butterflies in my stomach, right?

Strangely, it’s not the big move, temporarily mothballing my career, the new language or anything like that that’s worrying me, but rather all the little things involved with shutting down UK operations.

Niggly, little things.

All doable – just time-consuming, bureaucratic and petty.

Today I applied for my visa – an experience that was quick, pain-free and straightforward. Bravo, Brazil.

But one of the annoying things about international diplomacy is all the tit-for-tat measures put in to make applying for a visa more costly.

My student visa is meant to cost £32 for the year. Bargain!

Oh, wait – not if you’re from the UK. There’s an extra £124 on that – because the UK charges it for applicants wishing to stay for more than 180 days. The joke is – I can go there for free for up to six months as a tourist. 2 x free ≠ £156!

Superficially, the reciprocal deal seems fair. But it does irk me, as someone going to Brazil to spend money and learn the language, as I am effectively being punished for my country’s immigration policies. It’s just petty.

I should probably stop moaning and just see it as something unavoidable – a necessary evil.

Turning the corner off Oxford Street, I spy the Brazilian flag dangling lifelessly in the summer sunshine. It seemed fitting.

First in the queue, it was the moment I’d been worrying about for the last couple of months: the time it had taken to gather all the documents – the police background check, the original university acceptance letter, the various support letters, bank statements, redundancy notices…

My ticket number is called – novecentos e dois.

A woman with just Visas above her head (probably not her name) meticulously reads through all the documents I’ve coyly handed her.

She smiles and asks about my life – the softest interrogation I’ve ever been through, but an interrogation nonetheless.

I tell her that Brazil captured my imagination in many ways this January (it was painfully clear that she knew exactly what I meant) – and with that, she says everything’s fine and hands me a receipt to come back to the Consulate next week to pick up a shiny year-long visa in my shiny new passport.

A few months of waiting, and in about five minutes it was over and done with. Anticlimax or what.

Visas – a necessary evil, indeed.

32 days to go…