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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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....
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....