Friday, September 13, 2013

Cutthroat competitions and kites - São Paulo

Pretty, and here it can be deadly
This morning I had been planning a post on a completely different subject, but a tiny feathered messenger sent me another topic. Diverted from (probably) messing up "real" news like the Mensalão corruption case (yep, I was going to risk it--saved by the bird!), I instead found myself in a life or death struggle. Not my struggle, mind you. But one that must happen frequently here.

When I opened the kitchen door so I could feed the dogs, a fluttering and flapping called my attention.  A red-brown bird was hanging from one wing, tangled in a cord that reached from a tree on my neighbor's property to a tree on my side.  I have no idea how long it had been there but it was exhausted.  It was hanging less than four inches from my electric security fence where it would surely be fried to death.

I immediately turned off the power to the electric fence and got a ladder. When I went up near the bird to try to grab and quiet it, it bit me hard on the finger. I can't blame it--I'd do the same. I got a cloth, and my husband a broom with which to catch and pull down the string so I could try to untangle the bird. Finally the string broke but the bird fell to the neighbor's yard. Delicately I pulled it up to untangle the wing, and finally, freed, it flapped off weakly.

The string was not an ordinary string. It was kite string. Strong kite string made of nylon, not the cotton type you find in the US. Three years ago a huge eagle was stuck in kite string at the top of a 40 foot pine tree down the street. It would flap and pull, then fall, hanging upside down. Fortunately, someone called the firemen and a few hours later the eagle was free. 

It is hard for any American to believe but kites here are killers. Not only of birds who get tangled and not every one has a good samaritan to rescue them. They are killers of children, of motorcyclists, and others who may get near. Several cities in Brazil have now banned kite flying altogether, which seems like something out of a children's movie villain story. No kite-flying! No fun!

Kite string varieties
The issue is that kite-flying here is not always a beachside pleasure of butterfly kites and happy dragons. No, this is a cutthroat sport called "taio" -- roughly translated to kite-dueling*. Unfortunately, I mean literally "cutthroat", but that comes later. Kids and adults coat kite strings with something called "cerol" which is a mixture of cut glass with glue. Why? So they can battle to cut each other 's kites out of the sky.  Some attach even pieces of metal.

A "lucky" motorcyclist. Do NOT google images for this. You will regret it.
Which is why motorcyclists die. One of the most common places to fly kites is along the highways here. Empty space, nice breezes. And then the kite falls to the level of the roadway, the string crosses the street and all of a sudden, you have cut the jugular of an unsuspecting motoboy. This is not an infrequent accident.  In fact it is frequent enough that as of 1998, a state law prohibits the use of "cerol" on kites and the user is subject to fines and criminal charges. In reality, the law hardly stops this situation. There are, as they say, other fish to fry.

And fry they do sometimes. There were 87 accidents with kites and electric wires in this state in 2011: 16 were fatal (source here). That's just in São Paulo. And that doesn't count the financial damages from power outages due to kites. I couldn't find the numbers from São Paulo but in Minas Gerais, our neighbor to the north, there were 500,000 people left without energy during first six months of this year because of kite accidents with electric wires (source here)

"Corta-pipa" or kite-cutting antennas are now required accessories on all motorcycle delivery bikes. These are small antennas in front of the driver which would cut the line and protect the throat of the motorcyclists. 

And yet, the dueling continues. Now popular is something called a Chilean string which is made from aluminum oxide and ground quartz. Someone forgot to mention that aluminum oxide is a terrific electric conductor. Long-time duelers spend up to R$200 (US$90) per month to accessorize their kites. Ah, sale of this string is illegal and subject to 5 years prison penalty. Yet you find it for sale everywhere on the internet: see here.

Kite-flying in Brazil could make it as part of the Hunger Games. A beautiful pastime turned deadly. Our little bird friend got off lightly.

* Source:

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