Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nights on Bald Mountains

As soon as you drive into Rio from the airport, you notice the city is dotted with a number of tall, stony peaks jutting out from the surrounding shorter hills and plains.
Sugar Loaf and Corcovado ar the two most famous of these. (I didn't get any photos of these this trip...weather, time, location factored against me, so here are some purloined portraits.) But what you will not notice, once you get settled and start circulating a bit, is bald heads. I live in Portland, Oregon where, it seems, most guys between 21 and 69 have the need to shave their heads. I say most. That means at least 5.1 out of 10. It's probably more like 7 out of 10 (at least in the 30-65 range).

Recently at a neighborhood bar, there were 6 guys sitting at the bar across from me, 5 had shaved heads, and 4 were texting. Minutes later, two guys sat down next to me, both were voluntarily bald.

Well, I noticed very, very few dudes who felt the need to shave their heads in Rio. Maybe less than one in ten. Much less. Like the absence of expansive tattoos, the absence of shaved heads was quite noticeable for me, a resident of one of the most lemming-like communities I've ever lived in: Portland. (But that's another blog entry.)

I may have seen a few closely cropped pates, but, in 12 days on the ground, only a handful of totally shaved heads. In Portland, I would have seen more than that in a single visit to my neighborhood Safeway.

This is not to say that Cariocas don't have their own fads and trendy styles. (Jesus, if I see any more badly translated English language t-shirts, I might have to puke.)  Miller High Life is one thing, at least a few years ago, that Cariocas seemed intent on swilling, just like stupid Americans: Bad beer is bad beer. Brain is not functioning now, but, honestly, I'm not convinced that, today, there are that many silly "keeping up with the Joneses" sorts of trendoid fashion statements current in Rio. Should any pop into my week-outta-Rio brain, I'll jot 'em down.

Not long before I left for Rio, a movie opened in the USA called "Cloudy, With a Chance of Meatballs" which I thought was a pretty cool title for a book or movie. I had just sent a copy of the original book to my former step grandkids in Colorado. Well, the movie opened when I was in Rio, but the title had changed to Ta Chovendo Hamburger. WTF????!!!

Why the need to change the title to something even more American than meatballs?  I can't answer this. For sure, meatball exist in Brazil, São Paulo has better Italian restaurants than just about anywhere in the USA. Is it because hamburger is more funny in Brazil????  I really don't know. But it's interesting to observe that the change was made...and I'm including the Italian version, which retains the meatball them...It's Raining Meatballs.

still more to come...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Not done yet...

I've got lots more to say regarding Brazil, but I'm still recovering from the journey home which took over 30 hours, door to door, and found me with about 42 hours without sleeping. Long delay in San Francisco, just an hour or so by plane from home.

Still need to upload more photos to Flickr (there is a link in the right hand column for the full photo essay) and annotate them. Not many, thank god. I realize there are people, places and things I didn't get photos of, mainly due to my intestinal issues which began last Thursday and dragged on until Sunday sometime. That killed a couple of nights out to hear music. But, I can't complain too much...read the previous entries.

Anyway, in the meantime, here are a couple of paintings I bought last Sunday at the Ipanema Hippy Market.

The first is by Pedro da Conceição, the eccentric UFO loving painter who exhibits every Sunday.
Most of his work is highlighted by the presence of flying saucers hovering over Rio: soccer games, sunbathers on the beach, samba dancers getting ready for carnaval, all just about to be sucked up by Pedro's ubiquitous florescent-green-light-spewing space ships. But the one I got this time tells the story of a sad fellow whose favorite futbol team, Botafogo, was unlucky on the field...yes, he's crying in his pinga....

The other is by Vitorino, another whose work I've purchased in the past and with whom I've discussed him doing a poster for Carnaval in Austin. Well, he had the painting below for sale last Sunday and it was love at first sight. So I bought it, and next week will have it properly scanned, and the manipulated file sent to my friendly printer in Austin to produce the 2010 Carnaval Austin poster. Very cool. It will upset lots of people who want busty babes, devils and so on. But this is amazing art, will allow for the first horizontal poster we've ever done, and will dazzle all those who can allow for something a bit different.

Hope you like it!

More soon!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Home again, home again (not quite)

(This was written on 12 October, but only posted today, so "last night was really two nights ago)

In real time, fast forward some….I'm on my first of three flights home, Rio to Miami in about 9 hours. We'll see how far I get before the dinner cart shows up. I'm listening to some great choro music right now on the lump-top. Jorge Silva Filho made me a disc just a while ago of everything ever recorded by Jacob do Bandolim, the greatest mandolin player ever in Brazil: 300 songs worth! Porra!  (wow! shit!, literally:  sperm!)

Last night was the Paulinho da Viola concert (show) which serves as the terminal bookend for my trip, it could have been totally amazing, and on many levels, it was, but, unfortunately, the tickets were free which always makes for confusion and for a slightly rowdy audience. The crowd was mostly under-30s, very noisy. And there were no chairs. Oh, and Paulinho didn't start playing until about 11.30pm.

Musically it was wonderful (please see previous post for some background on this guy; I think I still need to give some more of his background, but that will have to wait. I realized that I hadn't seen a actual concert of his since probably 1980, so it was a great serendipitous surprise that I was able to catch the show. Great timing for the trip after all. He played a terrific selection of his hits, though there is now way all his greatest could fit in a 90-minute concert. Yes, he's that good.

He played some of his oldest sambas, and some of his very newest. Rousing carnaval sambas to his lilting softer sambas. Too bad that there was never a single moment when the crowd shut up. Not during those enchanting tunes like Sinal Fechado and Nervos de Aço, nor in his sometimes lengthy introductions and  explanations of his sambas. KIDS!  What are you doing here if you are not going to listen? Why did you wait in line for two hours to get your tickets, then another two hours to get in the venue if all you want to do is babble? A total lack of respect for one of the world's greatest living artists. So sad, yet so common.

Of course, all in all, it was a great experience. Even with such a chato (tedious/boring) crowd, the concert was a spectacular performance by a fantastically talented musician. Poised, charismatic and compelling. I can never get enough of Paulinho, and I can promise you I've already had plenty.

Earlier on Sunday I took the bus over to the famous beach called Ipanema, you heard the song, right? Anyway, every Sunday they have an arts and crafts fair, the Feira Hippie which features mostly crappy jewelry, ugly t-shirts with recipes for caipirinhas printed on the front. But there are lots of artists displaying their paintings, most reasonably priced, and most absolutely dreadful. Ok, not dreadful, but not to my taste. Lots of happy, dancing sambistas, baianas, Corocovados and favela paintings. Yeah, I want a painting of a cheerful slum in full-ahead party mode. But there are two artists from whom I've bought in the past.

One, whose name I can't remember, is obsessed with flying saucers gobbling up Rio soccer ball by soccer ball and paints UFOs into most of his works. I have bought a number of these over the years and enjoy them very much. He's getting old, is slightly crippled now, and using a cane, and might be a bit hard of hearing. I had a couple of chats with him, and he's as whacky and arbitrary with his pricing as ever...he had five or six paintings of the same size, all priced around 70 reais. Then one with BIG flying saucers, same size, and he wanted 600 for it!  Obviously, he doesn't want to sell it. I did find one that was a bit different; it depicts a fan of the Botofogo soccer team crying in his cachaça at the end of a match in which the neighboring Flamengo team was the victor. Outside the window of the local bar where he's suffering, there is a band of Flamenguistas celebrating in the street. Very interesting. (I'll post it tomorrow.)

The other is a fellow named Vitorino who I met in 1999 when I bought a very large piece of his, maybe four feet by 3 feet. It is his version of the samba school Mangueira whose colors are green and pink.

The drummers are in straight lines, and rendered almost like gingerbread men, in silhouette. They are against a green background, wearing pink shirts and trousers. There are at least 100 figures in the painting. Nice. He wasn't at the fair last Sunday and I was delighted to find him, actually his wife, showing new works this week. I immediately saw one I thought would work as a Carnaval poster and started negotiating. Finally hit a price we both liked and she wrapped it up. Interestingly, back in 2000 or so, I'd talked to her about getting him to do a poster way back then, but I didn't follow up and figured it would have been too difficult by long distance. So, I will finally get a Vitorino poster, and Carnaval will have its first horizontal poster ever.

After the feira, I walked over a block to the actual beach of Ipanema to shoot a couple of photos. Here is finally a photo of me on the beach, about the only way you'll find me on the beach.
The sun was already low on the horizon, so my beach shots were not great, but I heard some drums from down the street and followed the sound to find a group of young kids playing samba drums, a bateria. The youngest were probably five or six, the oldest, maybe 11 or 12. I think it was part of a City of Rio project to get kids off the streets and involve them in something more than drug selling. They were great, lots of fun, and clearly loving what they were doing, though the youngest were just barely bigger than some of the drums. Check out the flickr photo link (More Photos) near the top of the page in the right hand column for more of these kids.

(This is incomplete and I'm not sure how much I'll get to today...at SF airport...36 hours without sleeping. but check back wednesday for more BS and fotos.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

So many chickens, so little time

Eight tonight. Airport. My plane for the States takes off from Rio.

I'm mostly packed, and I'll have about eight hours to kill once I leave the hotel. One thing I wanted to accomplish while here was to sample one of my favorite Brazilian bar foods, frango à passarinho (chicken in the style of little birds) which is marinated chicken chunks, on the bone, fried until crispy--the skin like crunchy bacon--then topped with a mountain of toasted/fried garlic. How they get the garlic so toasty without burning is perhaps the greatest secret held in Brazil. I don't think I can do it at home. But it comes out flavorful, essential and strangely doesn't leave the garlic breath you might expect. It's a specialty at certain beer joints around the city, including a couple near the hotel. So, if I play my cards correctly, I'll get to achieve this last, all important goal before I head to Tom Jobim Airport.

Later the next day:  I did NOT get the little bird chicken. Damn!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Not a great way to save money on food...

I've had some nasty stomach problems since Thursday night. Cramps and more. No details, please.  Let's just say that my food and beer consumption have gone way down, and I'm saving money. Ah, but so is my music consumption. I'd wanted to go out the last couple of nights to listen to samba, but have not had the fortitude to do so. A shame, because I've missed a couple of nice shows. I finally asked a guy at the hotel about some remedy and he sent me to a pharmacy down the street to get some meds. The pharmacist handed me a couple of boxes, both very scientifically pharmaceutical looking, one is to rebuild the nice bacteria in the gut, the other turned out to be basically Imodium. I think they are working. But not as quickly as I'd like. I came to the realization last night that, in fact, maybe my problems stem from drinking tap water which I think I'd had no problems with in the past. I've switched to bottled water for the last few days, so maybe it will clear up soon on its own anyway. Could be my immune system was smashed from my two week stay in the hospital last year?

A few odds and ends:

As this belly bursting began on Thursday evening, I was catching some good food and music. Dinner at the legendary Bar Brasil, an old German place in the Lapa neighborhood.

I had a smoked pork chop (Kassler), creamy black beans (called tutú) and collard greens. It was nice, but the smoke flavor was not very pronounced. But the chopp was good and very cold. The waiters are all a bit gruff here, legendarily so, but they get away with it, maybe it's become traditional. You have to pass an asshole test to get a job at Bar Brasil, but I think the last test was administered more than 30 years ago. Yes, they are that old! Still, the place is an experience and should not be missed. The old wooden refrigerator next to the bar is a working relic!

And they also have one of the last chopp taps made of solid bronze (torre de bronze) which must be 60 or more years old. Great place all 'round.

Across the street was the real target of the evening, a club called Carioca da Gema, one of the original anchors of the Lapa samba revival of the late '90s. I have to say their music programming has fallen a bit, but it's still ok. I wanted to see a group called Sururu na Roda which features a talented young woman named Nilze Carvalho. She can work in samba and choro with her cavaquinho; she made her first recording at about age 13 or something ridiculous, and has been on a steady climb ever since.

I found the music ok, but nothing amazing. But by midnight, the size of the noisy crowd made listening impossible (most folks go to socialize, not to listen or dance) and the place become untenable for an old curmudgeon like me. So I left. Good thing, because by the time I opened the door of my hotel room, I had only seconds to spare before a disaster would strike. Thanks, noisy Cariocas! You saved my ass! Literally!

Oh, I guess it was lunch on Thursday when I went to the pleasant Churrascaria Majórica in Flamengo. These days, most churrascarias (churrasco refers to a southern Brazilian gaúcho/cowboy BBQ) feature the rodízio style (rodízio sort of means round and round, which is what the waiters with swords do) of serving, meaning never-ending supplies of meat on swords (really, just long skewers) parading around the room, flopping meat by endless request onto the plates of gluttonous diners (I should talk!).

These have even become popular in larger cities in the States, but I don't like this way of eating. It's really sort of obscene. (I should talk!)  But the Majórica doesn't have a rodízio, but rather, it's and ala carte way of ordering off a giant menu. Their meats are fantastic, and they're all grilled over white-hot embers. The results are splendid, absolutely splendid. I had a mini picanha (picanha is a cut of meat we don't have, but I think it's related to sirloin) and a skewer of grilled vegetables. Both were excellent, perfectly cooked, and I left nothing on my plate. Yummy. Another strong recommendation.

Let's see, Friday was sort of a wash, except for the Paulinho da Viola rehearsal. I didn't have lunch, and my galeto dinner was documented in a previous post. Hmmmm. Saturday, since it was to be my last Saturday in Rio, I had to force myself to eat a last feijoada. It was difficult. But the two Jorges (Jorginho do Pandeiro and Jorge Filho) treated me to lunch in  a very nice, quiet and clean part of the Laranjeiras neighborhood. I ate some of the food, but I really didn't have the inspiration. I guess it was good, but not as tasty as Lamas. But the company was fantastic. Jorge Sr told lots of stories about music in the 1940s and '50s in Rio, choro and samba. And was constantly screwing with me by slightly mispronouncing words and asking me if I liked such and such. The mispronounced noun almost always had to do with the mail organ. He explained that this joking is something that comes from long hours in the recording studio during which the musicians needed someway to keep it interesting during the breaks and down time. Great lunch even if the food was almost repugnant. Too bad, I'm sure it was actually decent.

Last night, a bowl of simple chicken soup was called for after I took my drugs. And then, back to the hotel to continue my recovery.

(more on this post later on Sunday...more observations on Brazil)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thumbs up for Paulinho da Viola!

It's still raining, outside the hotel, and, in a manner of speaking, in my room as well, the bathroom, I mean. Ate something the other day that has caused a lingering storm in my gut. Not pleasant at all. So I'm gonna have to mull over the last couple of days for highlights.

Something I saw last night reconfirmed my statement a few days ago about Brazilians not trusting each other. A store that seems to specialize in cookies and other sweets called A Casa do Biscoito (House of Cookies) was getting ready to close. As each employee exited the store, they had to submit any bags or purses to a thorough search by a security guard. No, you don't want to loose too many bags of cookies to internal corruption. Amazing.

I saw this happen from my seat in a restaurant that specializes in galetos, spit roasted game hens (which are, of course, just baby chickens. I watched a few other customers eating their tiny birds in the Brazilian fashion, that is, with knife and fork. Now these are tiny birds, and using a knife and fork just doesn't seem very efficient to me, so I picked up the tiny drumstick with my fingers to harvest what little meat was there. DAMN! The looks I got from fellow diners! As if I had been committing an act of child molestation instead of eating chicken in the manner of my people!  Fingers! So convenient, and so handy, much less cumbersome than any metal utensil. Brazilians, as discussed earlier, will not eat anything, in public at least, with their fingers. I saw a guy at breakfast this morning who had a very interesting technique for eating a banana. He held the banana, still partly enclosed in the peel, then, with his knife, cut a slice. He then put down the knife, picked up his fork with which he stabbed the banana section to carry it to his mouth. Totally crazy! Others were at least peeling the banana and cutting it on their plates. Needless to say, I ate my banana in the, apparently, crude American style, directly from the peel held in my hand. A prison term may be in my future if I continue with these barbaric eating habits!

You can't walk around Rio, at least when any other people are around (like in bars, restaurants, markets, on the street) for more than a few minutes without seeing someone give the thumbs up sign. In Brazil, far more than in any other place I know, it is an amazingly versatile gesture, all depending on context. A guy walks into a bar: thumbs up to the guy behind the bar, meaning "howdy". A guy walks out of a bar: thumbs up again, meaning "goodbye, see you soon". A guy sees a nice bunda: thumbs up to his friends, meaning "nice ass". (Don't get the idea I'm obsessed with bundas, ok?) Someone does a favor: thumbs up again, this time meaning "thanks, brother".

Someone sees someone on the street they know, but doesn't have time to stop and chat, once again, thumbs up, signifying "good to see you, but I'm in a hurry".  Other contexts create other implications: "everything's great", "wow, that's fantastic", "sorry, I understand", "I'll take care of it", "no problem", "you're cool". The list goes on. And on. Thumbs up! (After I wrote this, I found this quote from Wikipedia: "According to Luis Camera Cuscudo, Brazilians have adopted the "thumbs up" from watching American pilots based in northern Brazil during WWII" My pop was one of those guys, he stopped in Belem, way to the north at the mouth of the Amazon, flying his B25 bomber to Africa.

Another hand gesture I love, and which makes me giggle, sometimes audibly, every time I see it, is a slightly cupped palm used to cover the mouth, which in recent years has now come to serve a new function. Originally, I observed it mainly in restaurants, or even in peoples' homes, at the dinner table...it was a very polite social observance utilized to mask the obviously grotesque act of using a toothpick in public. I've seen it in the most humble hole in the wall, and the most expensive bistros. What's funny is, to me, it seems like they are trying to cover up, not just the gapping mouth and the probing toothpick, but they're making a vain attempt to conceal the very fact that they are using a toothpick. "I have my hand, casually covering my mouth, almost flat against my face, save for the twenty degree angle, like a salute, for no particular reason..." But I think, by now, everyone's caught on. I know I have. Now, in this day of cell phones, I see it, usually in restaurants, used to, again vainly, try to protect others from the one-sided end of the cell phone conversation. But they don't seem to understand that the hand is not very good soundproofing, but rather, just might serve as a megaphone, making the yapping even more obvious. I just love it.

Ok, Paulinho da Viola. It's because of Paulinho that I met my dear friend Celso here in Rio in May (or was it June?) of 1980, nearly 30 years ago. (Please refer back to my first post "Portland to Rio" which traces this all in detail.)  Anyway, my adulation for Paulinho drew me to his concert way back when, and it was backstage that I met Celso.

Paulinho da Viola is simply Brazil's greatest living sambista (which could mean samba composer, or samba singer; he is both). It's just that simple. The best. The top. What else can I say? He writes sophisticated sambas that appeal both to the upper class, but to the lower, often illiterate classes as well. The music is both simple and complex, based firmly on long-standing samba forms and traditions, and the lyrics speak to everyone, easy to understand, but in a sophisticated style that makes his work great poetry. I fell in love with his music the first time I heard it back in about 1977 or so. I listened to those now old records over and over, digging deeper with each listening, to the music, the poetry. He helped my learn Portuguese, his band helped me learn the sambista's method of playing the pandeiro (tambourine). Little did I know the guy playing the pandeiro on the more significant (to me) discs was none other than Jorginho do Pandeiro, Celso's father, with whom I had lunch even today. To this day, I never tire of his art. Never. Each time I put on a record or a CD, it's almost like hearing it for the first time, always fresh, but now, of course, very familiar. I still cry when I hear certain of his songs, they are that moving. Can you tell I'm a fan?

So I feel very lucky to have entered, however slightly, into his world. When he and the band were playing two weeks in São Paulo, in June of 1980, not only did I attend the performance 5 or 6 times, but I invited the band over to our apartment on their two off-days, Sundays, to have lunch. Everyone but Paulinho came over (he's the star, after all), and that included Cesar Faria, Paulinho's dad who played guitar with the group.

Now that in itself was an honor, especially when he and the bass player, Dininho (Celso's cousin) picked up guitars and played till late afternoon...in my house!  But I have had lunch with Paulinho on two occasions, once in about 1983 when they were recording a TV show in Rio, during the break, Paulinho and the piano player, Cristóvão Bastos invited me to lunch, I can't remember the conversation, but I'm sure I got in a few words. The next time was in 2001, more filming, but this time actual movie-making, in the house of Luciana Rabello and Paulo Cesar Pinheiro who were hosting a feijoada one Sunday, before some filmmakers shot some footage of Paulinho performing with Epoca de Ouro, his dad's (Cesar's) group. Way cool. I remember he talked a lot about his woodworking hobby and artisanal cachaças.

So, when I finally got my visa and plane ticket settled, I was delighted to learn from Celso that Paulinho would have a concert Oct 11, the day before my departure for home. What great musical bookends for the trip: Epoca de Ouro at the beginning, Paulinho at the end. Even more exciting for me was that I would be able to attend the group's rehearsal a few days before the concert (yesterday). So Celso picked me up at the hotel around 1:30 for the 2pm rehearsal to take place in a music studio in Botafogo, in the very neighborhood where Paulinho was born back in about 1942.

Wow, it was like old home week: several of the guys from the 1980 band were still around. In addition to Celso, there was Dininho, the bass player, and Celso's cousin and son of Dino Sete Cordas, one of the world's greatest guitarists of any genre; also Hércules, the drummer and band clown. (Cesar passed away a couple of years ago, as has the reed player from that period, the legendary Copinha. Paulinho's added to the band since then, bringing Cristóvão in permanently, augmenting with an additional percussionist, replacing César with his son this time, João Rabello, as well as pulling in a female chorus which includes his youngest daughter and Cristina Buarque, sister of Brazilian music superstar, Chico Buarque.

Scheduled for two, music finally began at about 3:45...Paulinho himself didn't get there until nearly 3 himself. But when it started, it was magical! I was totally enchanted...Paulinho da Viola was playing for an audience of exactly ONE!  That would be ME! How friggin' cool is that, Brazilian music lovers? Touch me for a bit of sizzle! They worked though, at least partially, most of the tunes scheduled for Sunday, some more than once, but since they have played these tunes together a million times (including for a Brazilian MTV music special in 2007, which, I think, is available from Amazon, and worth every penny of credit card principal and interest you have to pay for it!). I was floating on a cloud!

When it was over, some folks hung around talking for a bit (the accompanying photo shows the stragglers: Cristóvão Bastos, Jorginho Silva, the father of Celsinho Silva, Celsinho Silva, Paulinho da Viola, Dininho Silva, Hércules (Pai João)).

Then a few of his headed across the street to a very old, traditional bakery where the band always goes after rehearsals to get a particular bread, small and buttery, to take home. We waited around for the bread to come out of the oven, Paulinho joined us after a few minutes, and he and I got a chance to chat, and that was fantastic. He told me about a tea that might help my diabetes, a tea made from the leaves of sweet potatoes and the northern Brazilian fruit, graviola. Not likely I'll find graviola leaves in the USA, they're hard to find in Rio!  But a guy at the bakery had a batch made up for himself and shared a cup with me (he supposedly no longer needs insulin for his diabetes). It was pretty neutral in flavor, and I offered a taste to Paulinho, which he accepted. Now I've drunk from the same paper cup as Paulinho da Viola! I should have kept the cup and sold it on Brazilian eBay! He told me about his childhood in Botafogo, and that he started coming to that bakery when he was just a tot. I was delighted to be able to hold a conversation with the guy who, 30 years ago, didn't have to patience to wade through my then-very shaky Portuguese. And even though it's much better today, I found myself forgetting words and grammar. Shit, the guy's a big deal! Who wouldn't be nervous???

Now I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's performance since I haven't seen a "proper" concert of Paulinho in a long, long time, probably not since 1980! A BIG thumbs up, meu amigo!

Here's a sample (not my very favorite song, but it's really nice, and features the current line-up in an excerpt from the MTV program).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Singing-songing in the rain

Rainy day in Rio...in Portuguese, you’d pronounce that: Rayney day een Heeou! Ha, I love the language. Initial Rs are, at least in Rio, pronounced as Hs, double Rs too. A ‘friend’ from Piauí, well, the mother of my always amazing son, used to over-correct her English by converting all words beginning in H to begin with an R. So, the word for hammock in Portuguese is, then, ‘headgee’. Fine, but when she tried to talk about in English (it’s common in the northern state of Piaui to sleep in a rede, it’s too hot for a bed...), she would routinely say, ‘rammock’!!!! I love it!

Since it’s raining, I’m washing clothes, well, I’d be washing clothes anyway, but it’s a nice rationalization. Self-serve place near my hotel, costing about 10 reais (6 bucks) for the wash, not sure about the dryer.

My hotel would charge 15 just for a pair of Levis, but they would come back neatly pressed. This saves my lots of money, and gives me a chance to behave like a local. Already had a nice chat with the owner of the laundry.

Yesterday was a sort of lazy day after two very late nights, I was determined to be asleep by midnight, and though I was in the hotel by 10.30, it was 2am when the lights went out...writing, listening to CDs, the mind races!  I had a pretty bad lunch at the Boteco da Praia, a sorry version of my esteemed moqueca de camarão...the sauce was pathetic, not even close, and the shrimp were tiny, probably frozen.

I’m determined to have a good one, so Sunday I’ll try at another Bahian restaurant called Yemanjá in Ipanema.

I was searching for a DVD called O Mistério do Samba (Mystery of Samba), a documentary about the old timers from the samba school Portela, A Velha Guarda (the old guard). I found it for R$49 at Lojas Americanas on the internet, so Celso and I took the metro downtown to look for it. Of course they didn’t have it, only via their website, but they have a help desk where you can place the order with assistance from the store; mainly I wanted to make sure it would arrive at my hotel before my departure on Monday. The nice woman assured me it would arrive Friday, so we entered my account (I’ve ordered dozens of CDs from them over the past 10 years), put the DVD into my basket, and proceeded to place the order. “This order contains items not allowed for export outside Brazil.

YES, keep your samba movies in Brazil, do not allow them out of the country!!!! What???? Too many blacks in the film, don’t want to give the wrong impression? You only allow Brazilian rock DVDs to be exported??? Ok, so we had to change the delivery address to my hotel anyway, which we did. But their system kept going down (there is not a direct connection into the store’s system, they have to log on through that awful MS Explorer just like any customer! Five reboots! And then we could never get the system to advance past the change of address screen. After 15-20 minutes of fighting the computer, I gave up and resolved to pick up a copy from a decent book or record store...I knew I could have done this, but I was trying to save 10-15 reais. Since I paid for both metro round trips, that cost at least 12, and then I did find the DVD at a store called Modern Sound for R$59, so I ended up paying way more than that in the long run. It never makes sense to scrimp like this....I’ve had this lesson many times in Brazil before and I have yet to learn my lesson. Guess I never will. “This is not a serious country,” commented Charles DeGaul when he visited here a few decades ago. Not much has changed! At least in many areas...

Modern Sound is the best record store in Rio...while they don’t have everything, they have almost everything, including some great old Brazilian films on DVD. But a few years ago, they installed a full service restaurant (beer, wine, booze too) complete with a fully equipped performance stage from which musicians play every day, usually at 5pm. Last night, my friend Ronaldo do Bandolim, the mandolin player from Epoca de Ouro (see posts from earlier) was playing with another of his groups, Gente Fina. Some choro, some traditional hits, sambas, etc. The group was mandolin, drums, bass, guitar and soprano sax/flute.

Nice to drink a beer and listen to fantastic, virtuoso players inside a record store. I bought a copy of Ronaldo’s CD of music by Ernesto Nazareth, a composer of choro-style music from the early 1900s. The disc is great, it avoids the usual Nazareth standards and focuses on totally obscure selections. I’ve already heard it twice! Oh, Nazareth. Pronounced Nah-zah-ray. Which reflects the Portuguese spelling of the biblical town: Nazaré. Maybe Amazon has this thing, if so, get it!

On the way home, I stopped for something to eat at a classic boteco in Flamengo called Bar Picote. Tables on the sidewalk, cold chopp, tons of bar snacks, it’s the real deal. The food was fine, nothing special, but tasty.

The beer was cold. Not aguado!

The highlight of the stop was a character sitting at a table near mine dressed in a weird costume which I immediately recognized as the official dress for a carnaval group (called an afoxé) from Salvador, Bahia, a few hundred miles to the north, called Filhos de Gandhi--Sons of Gandhi. Now this is a group that was started by blacks, for blacks...it is VERY African. I’ve been to their rehearsals in Salvador, and I was always the only white person in the room. (wow, they would start a drum rhythm and it would then go on for an hour or more, singing different tunes along the way. Absolutely hypnotic, and it’s so traditional that men and women have separate rooms in which to sing and dance, as in Africa.) Anyway, this was an old, fat white dude (no, NOT me!), with a gray beard, but in full Gandhi costume complete with white turban dotted with a giant fake sapphire.
Too funny. He’s obviously a regular, he knew many of the people at the bar, and more who passed by. But he also got plenty of puzzled looks. I didn’t have the guts to be obvious in taking his picture, so what I have is blurry, or small, but might give some idea of his whackiness.

Clothes are halfway done in the dryer. (“From America,” said the attendant who just this second offered me a coffee...now that doesn’t happen in America! We make the machines, but leave the social graces to other countries!)

A guy the other night at Beco do Rato started conversing with me, and after a bit, he applauded my Portuguese, and when I said it wasn’t that great, he insisted, “You talk just like a Carioca, a Carioca being a person from Rio. Funny because years ago, when I was married to Rammock Lady, I had a northeastern Brazilian accent...even the Cariocas I encountered in those days made that comment! Guess I’ve been mostly around folks from Rio the last 25 years. When Son of Rammock Lady and I went to Lisbon, the cab driver asked if I was Brazilian! I took that as a complement to my language skills!

But the speech style in Rio, I think, has evolved over the last 30 years. To my ears, it has become exaggeratedly sing-songy. Lots of up and down patterns and inflections, which serve to help emphasize certain words, situations, feelings, intentions, excitement, etc. I find myself speaking like this quite often, and I don’t like it at all. When it becomes very pronounced in others here, it drives me crazy. Sometimes I want to slap people! I really don’t think it used to be like this. I know language changes, but that is not always a good thing.

Speaking of which, one of my favorite living samba composers is a highly educated fellow named Nei Lopes; he’s been around for at least 35 years and has had some significant hits. But for the last 10 years ago, he seems to be happy writing and composing sambas for less commercial audience, more intellectual, more thoughtful and I really like what he’s doing. He’s always writing about social issues in Brazil, and is often remarking on how Brazilians are so willing to give up their own culture for ‘aquela do norte’, meaning the USA.

He loves language and is often observing in yummy sambas, the adoption of English words into Brazilian Portuguese, or even how Brazilians use proper Portuguese words improperly. I just got his new disc, and one of his songs broaches the cultural invasion squarely in a song called ‘Pomba-girá Baixou no Halloween'. Pomba-girá is one of the saints (santos) or spirit-figures in Afro-Brazilian religions, most typically, I think, in Umbanda in Rio. So when this Brazilian spirit descends (baixar, baixou) on Halloween, well, the mixture should seem obvious.

He also directs a samba to the hip young Cariocas who insist on wearing their ball caps backwards saying, "Isso é mais um banal lero-lero que os gringos puseram na tua cabeça.” (Just more banal BS that the gringos have put in your head.) Funny dude.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Where to start???? How about an X-Burguer??? Or green mattresses...

I have about a dozen topics to spew forth, more perhaps. And not sure where to go. I don't want this to be a blow-by-blow travel journal, though it started that way, but now I've missed a few highlights and may try to get to some here.

A couple of days ago I visited a local cafe/bar/restaurant (boteco) recommended by Dr. Robert Patterson from Austin; Dr Patterson is the leader of the Austin Samba School (NOT a school) who travels to Rio for a month or so every January during the run-up to Carnaval.

He stays near my hotel and frequents a boteco, also referred to as a pé sujo (which translates as dirty foot owing to the less than pristine conditions of these places) called Bar Guanabara; it's about two blocks from my hotel. They feature a handful of simple, cheap lunch specials geared toward quick eating and small budgets. I opted for a grilled chicken breast served with a small salad, rice and a bowl of black beans--lots of food for about seven bucks, the cheapest eats I've had yet on the trip. Food was good, nothing special, but tasty, solid and very filling; maybe coffee was included? Places like this are all over Rio, some suck, but some are very decent, such as Bar Guanabara. I may go back, maybe not, but it certainly was worth more than I paid and that doesn't happen much in Rio these days.

I had a similar lunch yesterday in the Botafogo neighborhood at an old place called Adega da Velha (adega loosely translates as wine cellar and is used in Portugal a lot, velha means old woman...probably referring to the first owner of the place who was Portuguese).

Now they feature a menu from Brazil's northeast, and it's become well-regarded for their very good versions of this food. I had carne de sol (meat dried a bit in the sun) which came topped with sauteed onions, baião de dois (beans and rice mixed, with a bit of sausage and cubed cheese tossed in) and collard greens.  Was quite delicious, more than I could eat, and only about 15 reais, maybe seven bucks.

A woman sitting at one of the sidewalk tables was drinking beer after beer, chopp (from the tap), and, when ordering her second or third, told the waiter to make sure it was better than the previous one which she described as "aguado".  Aguado means watery, watered down. Now with booze or fruit juices, this can be a valid complaint, but with beer drawn from a modern metal keg, it's not possible to water down the beer (unless you put water in the glass with the beer, which, though could happen, doesn't (anymore). There's no time to add water to the glass, the beers fly out as quickly as two or three per minute.

So her complaint was bullshit. Funny thing was, earlier in the day, I was reading a review of another boteco, and one of the web-reader comments was that the place was nothing special, and the chopp was aguado!!!  Here's my take: I've heard this complaint before, and others like it. There is a certain tendency among some Brazilians (and Americans) to always find one or two things to complain about regarding a restaurant which, I think, gives them a feeling of superiority, like they are in the know, and on top. Has nothing to do with reality. I've noticed it a lot in Brazil. I can't think of other examples, but if I do, you'll be the first to know....

Heading back to the subway after lunch, I saw a small grouping of barracos (covered market booths) and resolved to check them out since I've needed a new watchband for the last year, and you usually find a little watch place among these sellers of herbs, batteries, used books, books on spiritualism, fast food and so on. I scored a cheap leather band, so now I know what time it is without pulling out a cellphone. Nice. This group of booths had five or six selling sandwiches, and all had signs pushing their X-Burger, X-Bacon, X-Salad, and 10 more variants at least on the X theme. So, what is "X"? If you speak Portuguese you know, otherwise, you'd never get it in million years, it ain't in the dictionary.  X means cheese. "But," you say, "I thought the word for cheese in Portuguese was queijo???" (you googled it, right?)  Well, the word for cheese in Portuguese IS queijo. However, the concept of burger is an imported one here, as is the name: hamburger, cheeseburger, etc. So when a Brazilian wants a cheeseburger, they ask for a "shees-burger". Simple right? But since the pronunciation in Portuguese of the letter "X" is "shees", the written form has evolved into "X-burger". Really quite cool. So, x-bacon, I suppose is a bacon cheeseburger, x-salada has lettuce and tomato, and so on. So, calm down, these are not pornographic sandwiches.

Yesterday on the street near my hotel, I saw two dudes on specialized bicycles which had wheeled carts attached to the fronts, and these carts were stacked with brand new twin mattresses wrapped in plastic. I assume they were moving them to an affiliated shop down the street. Hey, talk about green! And no parking problems for a large truck along the busy street. Portland, eat your bike-lovin' heart out.

A few years ago, a friend of mine in Austin discovered she had celiac disease which is a severe allergy to gluten...she used to get sick after nearly every meal, but no longer since she avoids gluten like that plague. It's something you hear more and more about at home these days. But in Brazil, they are ahead of the game. EVERY food item, from beer and carbonated water, to bottled peppers and cookies has to state on the label IN CAPITAL LETTERS whether or not the food has gluten or not. So now, on everything, I see Não contém gluten, or Contém gluten posted very visibly. This seems like a brilliant move, and I'm surprised we haven't added this yet to our growing list of label warnings. And I would have never imagined Brazil doing this, at least not yet. Very cool.

Last night's dinner was at one of Rio's most traditional restaurants, Nova Capela, established in 1928 in the Lapa neighborhood. Lapa hasn't changed much, physically, in the last 100 years, it's still packed with old buildings, shops, bars on labyrinthine streets, some narrow, some less so. It was the home to Rio's bohemian set, vagabonds, prostitutes, and, of course, musicians.
Thirty years ago, it was nearly deserted, mostly in ruin. But in the past 15 years, there's been some gentrification, which is great, it's saved the neighborhood from destruction, and, since most of the new activity is music, it's given samba, choro and other forms of music that were quite rare, really in 1980, a new lease on life as well. On a Friday or Saturday night, it can make Bourbon Street seem like a church social; far more crowded, much louder, and just as much public intoxication, only difference being it goes until about 5 or 6am. Anyway, Nova Capela sits in the middle of all this and remains unchanged through the ups and downs of the surrounding 'hood. My very traditional friends will only go here, or a place two doors down called Bar Brasil (more on that in a few days). Nova Capela is famous for its roasted goat served with broccoli rice, so that's what I had. (But I also had the codfish balls as an appetizer and I have to say, they just might be the best I've ever had, moist and flavorful inside, properly crunchy exterior.) I don't think the goat was totally oven roasted, maybe boiled a bit to tenderize, then roasted, but I think it may have been lightly fried before serving.

It was good, not great, and I'm not a fan of broccoli rice, but the potatoes that came along for the ride were spectacular. Probably boiled in salted water, then dried, then deep fried---chunks, quarters of potatoes, perfectly tender and delicious on the inside, crunchy and golden outside. Really one of the tastiest potatoes I have ever had!

Like most of these places, there are career waiters, all in their late 50s, early 60s. White jackets, black bow ties. I love it!  They kept the chopp coming, I think I had four (remember, the glasses are only about 8 ounces, and I'm not driving...). I heard a couple a few tables over speaking English but couldn't tell if the guy was Brazilian or American. After they ate (they were the only diners in the place to get real cloth napkins!), they were trying to get a photo of them together at the table by extending the camera out far enough to grab the shot, you know that new routine folks have with cell phone cameras, and such (we've become so isolated, we have to take our own pictures ourselves! Weird.).  I got up to go to the john and passed the table saying, "It's really better is someone else holds the camera." And asked if they wanted me to take the photo. I did, and we chatted for a moment; they are filmmakers in town for the Rio Film Festival with one of their films. Nice folks from NYC. The woman knew my old high school chum David Rodowick who is the head of Film Studies at Harvard. Oh, by the way, it seemed like 9 out of 10 diners had gotten their goat....

Leaving Nova Capela, I walked through Lapa (which has its questionable parts) toward a samba club a Brazilian had recommended to me on an online Brazilian music forum. I was a bit nervous on the way over, but once there, I was in samba heaven. The Beco do Rato (the Alley of the Rat) is a newish place that has taken over the outside alley next to the main bar. In this improvised courtyard is a large table around which sit the musicians who rotate instruments and singing duties. Great atmosphere, lively, enthusiastic and all of them were loving every minute. The music was good, not stellar, but the soul was vibrant, and very obvious. A true Rio experience. I stayed for about 90 minutes and on the way out, heading toward a street where I might find a taxi, I heard someone shout: "Are you from Texas?!!!???"

 Wow, how did they know? No hat, no boots, no pearl buttons, no giant belt buckle, and I don't think my accent in Portuguese reeks too much of Houston or Austin. It turned out to be Jorge Amorim, one of the musicians from Grupo Saveiro who have come from NYC to play carnaval in Austin for the last 6 or 7 years. What a coincidence!  We had a nice chat, I'm sure he was very surprised to see me, as I was him.

But this happened to me once before. In late 1979, a Brazilian music group was invited by Neiman Marcus to play around Dallas for a month or so. On one of their weekends off, they wanted to play in Austin, so they had contacted me (somehow the word has already gotten out that I was the Brazilian guy in Austin) and I arranged a gig or two for them. There were 8 in the band, and most stayed at my house. I got to know a couple of them pretty well including a guy who had taken a leave of absence from his letter carrier job in São Paulo to stay in the US to play music for a couple of months. I last saw them in 1980 when they had another gig in Austin and a couple in Houston (all of which I'd arranged for them). Fast forward about 8 months. I was then living with my dear friends Waldimas and Walminho in São Paulo. At least once a week I would walk down our street to a main drag where I would catch the bus headed downtown so I could tear through bookstores and record stores. Part of my "job" at the time! On one of these excursions, waiting for the bus, I saw a mailman delivering mail, headed my way. As he got closer and closer,  I started staring. Could it be? Could it be a guy I met in Texas? And indeed it was, the very musician I had befriended in Austin was the mailman on the route a block from our apartment! And I just happened to be there as he passed that certain bus stop. Amazing. Especially when you realze São Paulo is a city of about 20 million! How many postal routes might there be in a city that large? Thousands for sure. And he had THAT one! Absolutely mind bending. I invited him over for beer that very day after his route, and he invited me over to his house to have dinner with his family a few days later. Such a warm, wonderful, unexpected reunion. Maybe the world really is a small place....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Anniversary of dying (almost)

It was exactly a year ago--a Monday morning-- that a couple of paramedics, thanks to a call from my kid and Cynthia, found me on the floor of my kitchen, passed out, resting in a pool of I don't know what kind of bodily waste, about thirty minutes away from death. Kidneys not functioning. No blood pressure. No response.

Only Wednesday afternoon did I wake up in a strange bed (I thought I was standing up), surrounded by what seemed like a dozen nurses, two of my sisters, that kid, and a couple of friends. Of course I had no idea where I was. I'd been out of this world, it seems, since the previous Saturday night. And that brief window on Wednesday slammed shut (with another brief glimpse on Wednesday evening?) until sometime Thursday, probably after noon.

Diabetes hit me, and hit me hard. The complications shut down my kidneys, burnt out my esophagus, and I can't remember what else. Normal glucose level hover around 100, give or take 20 points or so. Mine was about 1,400 when I entered the hospital. No more Mike-produced insulin. Now I'll be shooting up this stuff from here out. Every night. Now THAT sucks, but not as much as the changes in diet. That's my drug of (imposed) choice to the right>

But I'm in Rio, so, other than trying to avoid sugar, which is nearly impossible, almost all bets are off.

Oh, and more or less at the very moment I was loaded into the ambulance, Glenda was standing in front of a judge in Wichita, getting a final divorce decree. You think the two might be related? Well, stress and anxiety play a great role in glucose levels. I know when I'm stressed now, my levels go way up, like during Carnaval season. During my flights down here, levels were up. So, maybe not, but I think my awareness of what was going on in Kansas (not my idea, by the way, by no means was it voluntary) had much to do with this onslaught.

So TWO delightful anniversaries today. What to do???  Well, samba tonight will help some, I suppose. And I'm gonna visit one of Rio's most traditional bars which is in the same neighborhood as the samba.

Last night I opted to try a highly recommended restaurant, famous for it's Bahian cuisine, Siri Mole in Copacabana. What a waste!  Bahian food has deep roots in African cuisine, with a touch of native ingredients and some Portuguese, but it's mostly the African. Bright red dende oil, made from the nuts of a palm (and refined for diesel fuel, no kidding), coconut milk, peanuts, dried shrimp, okra are some of those African touches. I began cooking Bahian food around 1980, and can do a decent job with certain dishes, especially moqueca, a stew of coconut milk, grated onions and garlic, hot peppers and dende oil; the main ingredient is usually shrimp, fish, soft shell crab (siri mole). I stick with shrimp. I've made it for literally hundreds of people, twice for 200 at a time.

So, moqueca de camarão it was. Oh, the price? Ridiculous at 93 reais, about 50 bucks!!!!  Why did I do that?  It was maybe 30% as good as mine, but for 50 bucks, I could make a better moqueca for 20 or more folks. I cook my rice in a mixture of coconut milk and water. Theirs was plain, maybe parboiled, like Uncle Ben's. My moqueca just has more flavor, deeper flavors, more complex. I can't believe this place is so lauded, and SO expensive (I've noticed all Bahian places in Rio are expensive). Maybe I should open a Bahian place in Portland....but it would be too much for those folks. "Where's the tofu burrito list," they'd whine. Don't get me started. So, if you're in Rio, do not go to Siri Mole.

P.S. Not only was the moqueca just average, the after dinner espresso was nasty. I didn't drink it, I didn't pay for it. This is friggin' Brazil, and I have yet to have any coffee really worth drinking. But since I roast my own beans, and brew with a great Italian espresso machine, I'm spoiled. Coffee in Brazil is not fresh, not really, it's ground in advance, and just not very good. Sorry, Brazil, but, in general, coffee in bars and restaurants really isn't good. It's better in peoples' homes. But not always. I think it used to be better. There's an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. So show me the good stuff!!!!!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Butts on Parade!

Bunda. Bunda. Bunda. Bundinha. Bundão.

Ass, after ass, after ass...

Note: If you feel that making observations scientifically upon the female butt in Brazil may be sexist, the please don't read this! I'm only relating what I see. If that offends you, then perhaps you should be watching David Letterman these days either!!!

Walking down any street in Rio is like a Macy's Thanksgiving Parade of Asses 24/7!!! Absolutely fascinating. Women here are built differently than women in the USA (Glenda was an exception!), and in a very good way. (Maybe men here are too, but, honestly, I don't have time to notice.)  I suppose it's the mixture of races here that has allowed the Brazilian bunda to have evolved in such an interesting fashion: Portuguese, African, Spanish, Italian, Indian, though I'm guessing it's mostly the first two to which we owe this gift from the DNA gods.

{You've figured out that bunda=ass. But there's more. Bundinha=nice, tight, especially attractive ass (not too big, maybe a bit small). Bundão=more or less, fat ass (this word can also mean lazy ass, lard ass; bundona is a variant, as is bunda mole meaning soft or lazy ass).}

I really don't know how to describe this phenomenon. The bunda protrudes, it's round, it moves. Imagine two smallish (sometimes large) beach balls mounted independently on a frame, but linked to move in a very interesting synchrony: one goes up, the other down, but somehow moving a bit out, a bit in as well, as if sort of moving in a limited circle. Sometimes very pronounced, sometime less so. Sometimes the balls are nearly complete hemispheres protruding from the hips, sometimes a bit less. Luckily, many Brazilian women wear extremely tight clothing to facilitate scientific research such as mine!

Portuguese has a word for this movement: rebolar, which actually means to move around like a ball, but the dictionary goes on the allow that rebolar can sometimes be lascivious, as in dancing a certain way.  I'd like to suggest that this lasciviousness, though completely unintentional most of the time, also occurs on the street, day in a day out. It's impossible to miss, and often impossible to NOT fixate. Hypnotic, and much more effective than a pocket watch swinging back and forth. I catch myself in this several times a day. Sue me, I am a male with (sometimes) functioning parts.

Now, about that dancing. When Brazilian women dance samba, all of this rebolando stuff is multiplied and exaggerated 100-fold. I don't know how they do it. I've tried to analyze it many times, always with long, careful observation (for science). They move their feet (and legs, rembember, connected to the ankle bone?), and the movement transfers to those quite firm (hopefully) beach balls which then go into an even crazier orbit. My research topic will be something like: "Why American Women Can't Dance Samba: Anatomical Origins of the Bunda Rebolando in the Samba of Rio de Janeiro".  Will need lots of research subjects! As if....

Regarding the Macy's reference: sometimes it appears, when especially graceful, that the bunda on the street is somehow floating...no, not as large as a Snoopy balloon, but floating, swinging, enticing.

I think I need to apply for that research grant tomorrow.

Playing ketchup

It's Monday now, almost noon. I'm trying to get caught up on this thing because if I let it go anymore, I will never finish, I learned that in Italy a few years ago. I wrote for a couple of days and stopped for a day, then there was no way to get current, so the whole thing came to a grinding halt.

Let's see, the feijoada on Saturday. In Rio, Saturday is the day for feijoada, an enormous spread built upon a base of pork infused black beans...it's usually a Saturday lunch because you need a nap after consuming all the beans, meats, rice, oranges, manioc meal, collard greens and caipirinhas (the lime and rocket fuel (cachaça) drink so popular in Brazil, especially on Saturday afternoons).

So that's the formula for feijoada (the word literally means "beaned"). I like the version of this meal served at my favorite restaurant here, Cafe Lamas, so I arranged to meet with some Chowhound.com pals, Catherine and Bob, who have an apartment in Copacabana, lucky stiffs. I'd actually never met them, so this could have been a disaster, but it was anything but! They were delightful! They speak little Portuguese, but forge through the complexities of live in Rio with gusto...I love it! They'd had a feijoada the week before, so they opted for the garlic smothered steak in the style of Oswaldo Aranha...aranha means spider, so it's a rather humorous name...Aranha was a senator in Rio in the early 1900s and loved this steak, so a nearby restaurant, the Cosmopolita, named it after him.

We had a fantastic time eating, talking, eating, drinking, talking, eating and people watching. At some point, a woman sat down at the next table and I did a triple take: she looked almost exactly like my dear ex-spouse Glenda, the Bad Witch of the North (formerly the Good Witch...oh, Deborah's the real name as you may recall). I couldn't take my eyes off her (my soft spot is as soft as ever) and Catherine insisted I shoot a photo which I refused to do, not even using the nearby mirror to snap a sneak shot of her face. However, when I got up to go to the restroom, I shoved the camera into C's hands and said, "here, you take the picture."  And she did!!!!!  And she was kind enough to take a photo of the doppelgänger's husband!  How sweet! (I deleted it!)  She really did look like Glenda and it was very disturbing. Since the woman was speaking Portuguese, I was pretty sure it wasn't Glenda.

The meal went on for a couple of hours, but the afternoon Sandman was calling all three of us, so we split the tab and went our merry ways. I might have succeeded with the nap, maybe 30 minutes, but I'm not really a nap person, so I was up and around most of the afternoon, partly dealing with this thing and the associated photos on Flickr, partly reading, partly daydreaming.

Sunday, Celso came by the hotel with his wife, Marluce, and we drove over to Ipanema to check out the regular Sunday "Hippy Market". The name should give you an idea of the age of the thing, if not the content of many of the stalls. I go because you can often find some interesting 'naive' art for a decent price...I've bought several pieces in the past, particularly from a guy who is a believer in UFOs and paints them into all his cityscapes of Rio. Samba band playing on the beach with flying saucer. He had one yesterday of a giant saucer-mothership sucking up people, cars and so on, with maybe ten smaller ships scooting about the city sucking up more people, cars and so on. Hilarious. And though he was asking about forty bucks for other paintings of the same size, for that one he was asking nearly 400. "A guy from India came buy and paid that for a similar painting last month," he explained. Actually, I think he just doesn't want to sell it.  I saw a few other interesting paintings, one of which I may purchase to use as the 2010 carnaval poster...I just have to decide if a nearly naked ass will fly in the windows of retail stores around Austin!

At the market, Celso and I ate a snack with origins in the African roots of Brazil's Northeast, specifically, Bahia. It's called acarajé, and it's a fritter made from black eyed pea meal, fried in red palm oil (good for the coat), and filled with dried shrimp and a variety of Afro-Brazilian "stews", in this case an okra-based one. And lots of hot, malagueta peppers. Marluce opted for boiled corn on the cob!  We then headed to a local bar to have more snacks, called petiscos, and to yap on and on about music, diabetes, Obama, and other important topics. Nice afternoon. Rainy, but nice.

The back of a t-shirt I saw the other night said:  "United Federation, founded 18th Century". I have no idea what the front said, if anything. Reminded me of the name of a Brazilian line of jeans and clothing: Taco Conquest Systems. Ten years back I loaded up on Taco Conquest System t-shirt and so on for my kid. I knew he'd appreciate the language. Maybe I should have bought the United Federation shirt off the guy!

Brazilians don't trust each other. This is expressed in a number of ways, and dates back to that imperial bureaucracy discussed in yesterday's post. Since everyone assumes everyone else is a cheat, they build in systems to help prevent stealing, jumping a bar tab, and so on. Of course, the real cheating goes on at much higher levels, involving millions of reais (the real is the currency, it's about 55 cents) day in and day out. Politicians, judges, all are far more corrupt than in the USA (but by how much????) and no one here trusts any pol in any way, shape or form. Ladrão is a common term applied to these folks. Theif. Plain and simple.

Anyway, two examples. Saturday I wanted to buy a couple bars of my favorite Brazilian soap, Phebo, which is made in the Amazon, and glycerin-based. I usually get it at a drugstore nearby. But you don't just go in, pick up the soap, and go to the register. You have to hand the soap to a clerk, they ring it up through some computer, hand you a slip of paper which you take to the register (which is a disorganized as anything you can imagine), then hand it all to the register clerk who rings it up. I have no idea what this middleman process accomplishes since the paper I was given had no indication as to the product I was buying. Nothing. But it's the process in use. That said, it's far easier than it used to be. In the old days you handed the soap to the clerk SHE (never a HE in a farmacia) wrote up the product by hand. She then carried the soap to another clerk and you carried the receipt to a cashier. After paying, you went to a counter with a PAID receipt and traded it for the soap, now neatly wrapped in paper. Not a bag, but wrapped...large packages were tied with string. As recently as 8 years ago, this was the procedure. Thank god for progress.

At music bars, it's just as complicated. It's all about control and control of cheats. When you enter the club, the attendant asks your name, then scribbles it on a form covered with small print and check boxes. You have to carry this form with you the entire night. If you loose it, you are thrown into the sea, or locked up in a closet in the club until you rot. There is no escape without the form. Why? Read on...

When you buy a drink, or a snack (all music clubs serve snacks), the waiter notes on the form what you've ordered, then goes off to the bar to retrieve the drink. Check, check, check, check. To get out of the club you have to carry the form to a check out register (like at the drugstore) where the clerk totals up your consumption, adds in the obligatory cover charge. After paying, you are handed a "PAID" receipt which is your ticket out of the place. No ticket, firing squad. Death. Hours of listening to Roberto Carlos music at loud volumes (think Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, and thick, cloying syrup combined into one unity).  I can never really enjoy music in Brazil because I'm constantly worried about loosing my form. I hate Roberto Carlos. Give me the firing squad.