Wednesday, October 20, 2010

There's An Awful Lot of (Awful) Coffee In Brazil

The following song was a big hit more than once as sung by Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Louis Prima and others. Read the lyrics and we'll discuss all the awful coffee in Brazil down below.

The Coffee Song
Written By: Bob Hilliard / Richard Miles

Way down among Brazilians
Coffee beans grow by the billions
So they’ve got to find those extra cups to fill
They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

You can’t get cherry soda
Cause they’ve gotta sell their quota
And the way things are I guess they never will
They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

No tea or tomato juice
You’ll see no potato juice
Cause the planters down in Santos
All say no, no, no

A politician’s daughter
Was accused of drinkin’ water
And was fined a great big fifty dollar bill
They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

When Brazilian ham and eggs need savor
Coffee ketchup gives ‘em flavor
Coffee pickles way outsell the dill
Why they put coffee in their coffee in Brazil

You date a man and find out later
He smells like a percolator
His cologne was made right on the grill
Hey they could percolate the ocean in Brazil

Don’t ask for hot cocoa there
They’ll say you’ve gone loco there
But say caffeine or coffee bean and they’ll say ay ay ay

So you’ll add to the local color
Serve some coffee with a cruller
Dunkin’ doesn’t take a lot of skill
They’ve got an awful lot of coffee
A great big pot of coffee
They’ve got an awful lot of coffee
In Brazil, Brazil, Brazil
Cafe olé
Yep, Brazil produces a lot of coffee—the most recent figures I looked at show Brazil produces four times more coffee than any other producing region, except Vietnam, which produces half as much, but ALL that coffee is of the Robusta variety, read: Folgers quality.
Coffee in different stages

But the fact is that, most of Brazil's coffee is also Robusta, though, increasingly, the producers of the higher quality Arabica varieties are quickly gaining ground. Unfortunately for Brazilians, most of the really good coffee seems to be exported. (Why? Brazilians themselves are not demanding better quality, so, the producers go the where the demand is.)
Ripe coffee "cherries"

 Brazilians reading this are going to scream and disagree with me. So be it. Just realize that I think American coffee is still worse, in general, than Brazilian. That doesn't make Brazilian coffee good. In time, maybe the demand in Brazil for better coffee will grow. But, in my limited experience during my last two trips, I couldn't find even ONE coffee specialist that offered properly roasted and brewed coffee. Doesn't mean they don't exist, but I didn't find any. 

Thirty years ago, when American coffee was 99% crap, Brazilian coffee appeared to me, and other visitors, to be mostly uniformly better. And, possibly, it was. Our coffee was mostly so awful, almost anything else would be an improvement.

However, in the following years, the state of coffee in the USA has improved greatly, at least for those who chose to choose better coffee. Boutique roasters offering amazingly good beans from all over the world seem to be located on every corner, and I'm not talking about Starbucks, though, I have to offer that company some of the credit for helping to raise the overall awareness of the availability of better coffee options.

My Behmor Coffee Roaster
Personally, I have been roasting my own green coffee beans to guarantee absolutely fresh coffee for my morning and afternoon vice. I also have invested in a beefy Italian espresso machine and a commercial style grinder. I am now convinced that, even it Portland where local think coffee was invented, I have a better cup of coffee than any of the very pricey hipster coffee joints. Yes, I'm very spoiled.
My Macap M4 coffee grinder

That my home-brewed coffee is better than anything I can get in Brazil is an understatement. I think that, over the last 30 years, coffee in Brazil has gotten worse. Much worse. Now, part of this is my personal standard has risen dramatically. And I still think that coffee in the average American restaurant or cafe is undrinkable. I don't even bother and can't understand how anyone can possibly drink such bad fluid—I can't even call it coffee really.
My Bricoletta Espresso Machine

 But the average coffee served in Brazil is only slightly better, if at all. It, like most commercially served coffee in the USA, is old, brewed long before serving, is made with old—far from fresh—coffee beans, and is brewed with less-than-satisfactory methods.

I had coffee made in many different ways on this trip: home-style Melitta drip, espresso machines, commercial drip, cloth filter brewed. It was all pretty bad, sometimes really bad, sometimes actually approaching decent. One problem with the espresso machine coffee is that the vendors insist on filling the little cups to the very top because, if they don't, the exigente Brazilian customer will complain that the cup isn't full. Too bad, if they stopped the extraction at half or less of the cup's volume, they could actually produce a decent espresso in most cases. Over-extraction produces a very bitter brew, as does under-extraction. I finally started asking for a half-cup and was proven correct: the coffee was  uniformly better. Not perfect, but far more flavorful and less biting. But no way the average Brazilian would accept this partial cup. "Você está me roubando, filho da mãe!," they would say.  Their loss is their loss.

All I can say, that one of the best parts of getting home is the ability to drink good coffee again. I roasted a new batch within an hour of arriving from the airport, and I've been in coffee heaven ever since. Yum.

Here are some links to the some of the folks I like for consistently good coffee, machines, green beans, grinders, roasters, etc. Not cheap, but if you roast your own, you easily pay for the roaster in a year or so, depending on the volume of your habit. If you regularly consume a cappuccino or "latte", then your savings by NOT going to Starbucks or similar will likewise cover the cost of a good machine and grinder. And the coffee you drink at home will likely be better, certainly fresher, than about anything you can get commercially.

For green beans and roasting supplies:

For fair trade and organic Brazilian coffees imported into and roasted in Austin:

For family grown boutique coffees from Minas Gerais in Brazil, Cup of Excellence winners!!!

For very good espresso machines, grinders, etc:

For very good, actually, the best, variety of freshly roasted coffee in Austin:

Coffee can be great! Try some of these places and you'll see what I mean.

In the meantime, Brazil, and the USA, continue to have an awful lot of awful coffee.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Great music in Rio: Bon Jovi, Rush and Dave Matthews Band....

Last Sunday, I saw a large number of young dudes wearing new, clearly pirated Rush t-shirts...I guess in preparation for the concert which, I suppose, was that night.

Each of these bands listed above received a full page of coverage in Rio's main paper, O Globo, last week. I was in awe! 

But this is normal.

Crappy American music gets full coverage....Brazilian music gets far less. What gives in a country with so much great local music, that total crap from the USA (and other countries) gets royal treatment in the press?

This is not new, it has been like this since I first started visiting Brazil in 1980.  Record stores also reflect this strange bias against Brazil's extremely fertile music scenes. Most stores carry and feature far more American music than their own product.

And this makes me very sad. It's bad enough that at home I am bombarded by this junk, but to arrive in such a rich, musically speaking, place such as Rio and find so much attention to this "lixo" (trash), well, it just doesn't make sense. To me.

If the press here devoted as much attention to their local musicians as they do to musicians from afar, well, Brazilians themselves might learn more about their own, and might actually spend more money supporting samba, choro, MPB and other forms of Brazilian musical expression. As it is, the support is not great, record companies maintain very little in their back catalogs, so, a record that, say, came out a year ago might never be seen again. Very sad.

I'll bet I can go into any record store in Rio and find ALL of Madonna's records in stock.

This makes me sad. Very sad....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Vignette of Ipanema—
Just Filler Till the Next Entry!

I can't believe I have not had the energy or motivation to keep this more up to date. Let's just say that I seem to never stop, and when I do, I'm worn out from running all over this city; not an easy task as anyone who has been here can tell you. Lots of music, too much food, and many laughs since the last entry. And I'm editing videos for up load, so the next entry or two will be quite meaty. Good thing...Brazilians like meat probably more than Americans!

What that has to do with anything, I don't know.

Sunday, I went by subway to the weekly Feira Hippie, or Hippie Market, where there is lots of crap for sale to tourists, but, please, include Brazilian tourists in that category.

Ipanema Subway Station

Ipanema Subway Station
There are two or three artists worth considering who display among about 40 painters. The painters are surrounded by a perimeter of booths selling lots of cheaply made junk, some really awful t-shirts, and a few, but very few, worthwhile trinkets.

Artists Display at Ipanema Hippie Market
Last year I reencountered an artist whose work I had discovered in 1999 and fell in love with, Vitorino, and worked out a deal to use a painting I bought of his for my 2010 Carnaval poster. His wife was there, as usual, but the selection of work was down to only a small handful, five or six, mostly small works. I couldn't resist picking up a couple of them, his work, for some reason, appeals to me very much.
New Work by Vitorino

His wife, Julia, insisted I call her this week to meet up with her so she can escort me to their house just up the hill from the favela, or slum, of Cantagalo. Not sure I'll take up her offer, but it could be interesting. She took me up in the brand new elevator which now connects Cantagalo with Ipanema to make coming and going easier for the favela's inhabitants. The halfway point features a great vista of the beach and the neighborhood which I enjoyed very much. Take a look:
Atlantic Ocean at Ipanema from 200 feet up
After exhausting everything the market had to offer, I headed to the beach of Ipanema just to take in the view of the sea for a few minutes. The sky was grey, the wind strong, the surf pounding. But it was stupendous just the same. If you know me at all, you know I prefer the beach on days like this. I used to say something like, "The beach is fine...except for the sand, the sun and the salt water." But the power of the ocean waves is, nonetheless, intoxicating.

Here's a little taste of said intoxicant:

See you soon with more music and food junk....

Friday, October 8, 2010

You MUST Eat Your Ice Cream Cone With A Spoon

Last year's blog entries from Rio were full of juicy observations about Rio, life in Rio, food, manners, and so on.

This year, I'm not feeling so philosophical, and, since I was just here a year ago, things are not as "newish" for me, the level of excitement of being here again is not as elevated (it had been about eight years last time), and so on. And, I'm getting old.

Last year, I posted lots of food pictures, so far this trip, exactly NONE. But we get requests, so, here are some food shots from the last two or three days. To come, photos of people and architecture since last year someone said I ONLY post food and music photos.

Well, what else is there?
Feijoada very Completa!

I've been looking for great feijoada and truthfully, have not found it yet. But, I had an okay one two days ago in a "boteco" in Ipanema called Brasileirinho. It is owned by the folks around the corner, the Casa de Feijoada, so you would expect it to be exemplary. Well, it was just okay. I think the torresmos, which should be nice, hot chunks of crisply fried pork belly with skin attached were more like Bakonettes, light, false-seeming, and not satisfying because they were not fatty enough! The flavor of the beans was lacking meatiness, the couve, or collard greens, contained some burnt, acrid garlic. The meats, which were served separately, were ok, but they included a sausage called XXX, which is basically a hot dog. Never seen this before, but I know it exists. Yuk. The experience was pleasant enough, but the cost for one person was R$ 42 (about 25 bucks), so it was no bargain as was the generous helping I had last Saturday at the Cordão da Bola Preta which was only R$15, about eight bucks, and the flavors of Saturday's plate were far more satisfying.

Torresmo, crispy pork parts
Feijoada meats...

Anyway, here are some photos and a short video of the bubbling clay cauldron of meats and bean broth.

Ok, yesterday I was in downtown Rio doing some book and record shopping and stopped at a well-respected botequim called the Casual which has a Portuguese slant to it. It is located in a building which must be at least 150 years old, probably older. Charming alley location, great sidewalk tables good for people watching.

Each day they feature a couple of blue plate lunch specials, mostly with that Portuguese accent, so I opted for the costellinhas ao forno, pork ribs braised in the oven. The serving was generous with about four meaty ribs with falling-off-the-bone tenderness. They had been braised with a well-seasoned tomato-based broth, and were very tasty. A few potatoes, also cooked in that same broth, were included, along with a small mountain of tomatoey rice. The whole thing was quite good...I'd been needing a break from the black beans, meat and fried thingys Carioca-oriented meals I've been having. It did the trick. Only R$22 (about 12 bucks).

A shot of my ribs from Botequim Casual:
Botequim Casual, Downtown Rio

Costellinhas ao forno

Brasil was once the capital of the Portuguese Empire, then it evolved into the Empire of Brasil for a time. An Empire needs an Emperor, and an Emperor needs a Court and a Court needs to present the most formal of manners, the most rigid of bureaucracies, the most rigid of class systems. All these must be present for the Emperor, his court, and his subjects to function properly.

It is my theory that this Imperial Mentality and all its trappings are what trickled down to the people, all the way down to the lowest classes, and is still alive today in many ways. Thus the need to be extremely formal with strangers, or with those of a higher class. It is common for people to be a addressed as “Seu” or "O Senhor" ("sir", but literally, "Your Lord" or something similar), or "A Senhora"("madam", but literally "Your Lady"), in many circumstances... Today I was on the phone ordering a set of CDs to be delivered to me next week. The phone attendant regularly addressed me as "Seu Michael" which I found amusing. Sir Michael, indeed!!!! Yeah, we still use "sir" in certain cases, but nothing like it's used here.

Needless to say, there is an endless list of necessary formalities: Enter an office, or other place of business and silver try with coffee served in small cups will appear. At my hotel, the lobby is full of doormen, at least three at any one time. They fall over each other trying to accommodate the guests. In restaurants, when the food arrives, the waiter very subserviently and ceremoniously dishes a portion of food onto your will never be allowed to do it yourself!

Don't forget, always use a napkin to pick up ANY sort of finger food, the stuff we would normally eat with our fingers in the United States. ANYTHING, ANYTIME. I think this mania has evolved into a fear of having filth on one's hands, and god forbid you would want to transfer that shit onto your piece of fried bacalhão! Yes, pizza is eaten with a knife and fork. And, yes, ice cream cones are eaten with a spoon....then you toss the cone!

For last year's observations on this, check here: Reflections on Rio

The funny thing is, when I mull over all this formality and ceremony, then compare it with our fronteirsman-based social behavior, I realize how crude we must seem to visitors from other countries where these customs appear...which would be about every country but ours!

Americans! You are a rugged bunch of socially inept slobs!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Delicious Poison, Delicious Samba

Brasil, and Rio especially, have a tradition of very inexpensive, interestingly produced music presentations, often sponsored by a bank, the power company, the local government body, and so on.

Brasil's largest bank, the Banco do Brasil, has a great facility dedicated to promoting and preserving Brasilian culture, especially the music. Their Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, situated in the old center of the city, an area simply dripping in history and amazing stories. A grand old bank building houses this cultural jewel.

The programs often feature lunchtime shows, as well as evening presentations, in order to service the downtown workforce...a great idea.

A few days ago, I was lucky enough to attend one of these programs, part of a series dedicated to exploring various aspects of samba, a different topic each month for about six amazingly competent project. (Which we don't have in the USA, sadly. No, not exploring samba, but some of our own music at least...but, no! Nada!)  Named No Princípio Era Uma Roda (At The Beginning It Was a Ring [Dance]), the series explores samba, which had its origins in ring or circle dances which came from Africa, in various parts of Brasil, and various time periods in Rio.
João Martins, X, Nei Lopes and Eduardo Gallotti at CCBB

The show I attended focused on the samba of Lapa, a classic, fairly well preserved neighborhood of Rio where, in the early twentieth century, the focus was on a more or less "red light" industry with lots of gambling, prostitution and transvestite shows. These days, Lapa is the center of a contemporary renaissance of samba and other traditional Brasilian musics.

The show featured performances by a capable samba group, Galocantô, who backed up the special guests João Martins, Eduardo Gallotti and Nei Lopes. I'll be posting some other selections from this show later down the line, but for now, I want to share the best of the lot, Nei Lopes.
Nei Lopes at the CCBB in Rio

Nei is an amazing character, a composer, singer, historian, lawyer!!!, and writer who has written some great sambas in the last 40 years; I consider him to be one of the best composers of the last 40 years, in fact. Along with his former songwriting partner, Wilson Moreira, he's written a long series of very successful "hit" sambas including Coisa da Antiga, Goiabada Cascão, Morrendo de Saudade, and this very wonderful tune which was a big hit as sung by the late, great Clara Nunes, often regarded as the best woman samba singer of all time...the tune? Gostoso Veneno (Delicious Poison).

Here is Nei:

Hope you liked it as much as I do, and I've heard him sing in numerous times, played it on the radio a million times, and every time I hear it, I like it even more! Wonderful melody, great lyrics.

Will be posting more of his performance later, as well as something from the guy who is largely responsible for the current samba revival in Lapa, Eduardo Gallotti. Let's see what you think...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Samba on Saturday Afternoon With the Black Ball Carnaval Group (Cordão da Bola Preta)!

Saturday in Rio.

Around noon, I gave my friend Jorge Filho a lesson on the MacBook Pro I brought down for him as contraband...Macs here are very, very expensive. After about ninety minutes of crash training, we called it quits since we were both feeling a bit hungry.

Lesson finished, I had to have my first feijoada of the trip; hopefully the first of four or five. Feijoada is a traditional Brazilian dish of black beans (ususally), a variety of smoked and or salted meats from cow and pig, served with rice, collard greens, orange slices (for digestion...ha, as if...), crisply fried pork skin or belly and a kind of toasted meal made from the manioc root, cooked with butter and sometimes scrambled egg. It is delicious, habit forming and very filling...especially after eating about three or four pounds worth in one sitting! I'm sure I've done that! It can be debilitating if not careful!!!!

So I'd planned to have  my feijoada at a corner bar in the Lapa neighborhood, then head over to another feijoada party (feijoada optional) which principally featured live samba bands which was located at the headquarters of Rio's oldest street carnaval group (called a cordão), the Cordão da Bola Preta. They organize a big street parade which rambles through a certain neighborhood of Rio during Carnaval time....thousands participate, and these groups tend to be more democratic, in some ways, than the larger samba schools which comprise the enormous, showy parades which make it on TV during the two days before Fat Tuesday. My kind of party group!!!

Alas, when I arrived at choice number one, it was closed unexpectedly, so I had to quickly think on my feet. Ok, clearly the choice was to partake of the feijoada at the samba joint—the Cordão da Bola Preta—which was close by. It was nearly 2:30 pm when I finally found it, and I was starving.

I paid my six buck cover (10 Brazilian reais...the REAL [pronounced "hay-ALL"] is made plural by dropping the L and replacing it with an I, then adding the S...linguistic craziness of Portuguese), and entered the CBP's headquarters. I got in line for the feijoada buffet and suffered through the 20 or so minutes it took—though it seemed like hours—to get to the food. I received a plate full of food, and headed into the main hall where the music was to sit and eat. Only one problem. There were no empty tables. So I went to one end of the place and headed back, when, about halfway back to the starting point, a guy grabbed me and said to his friends at his table (where there was an empty chair), "This guy has already been all the way through the room and hasn't found a seat. Let's let him sit with us!?!"

Carnaval mural at the CBP HQ
And so I was invited to share their table, and was I ever glad. It would have been very difficult to have eaten this chow while standing up. Not impossible, but not pleasant.

Well, it turns out the guy who extended this kindness turned out to be one of the directors of the Cordão da Bola Preta! Lucky me!  I seem to always be able to stumble onto things like this...see last year's blog for my meetings with Martin Sheen and Henry Winkler in Spain and Italy, respectively. Eduardo was very friendly and I mentioned that I produced the largest Brazilian Carnaval ball in the USA and his eyes lit up. In a few minutes I was introduced to the President of the CBP and handed his card. I was a VIP in minutes!

VP of Velha Guarda do Estácio
Then I struck up a conversation with the old black gent sitting to my left...especially after he started offering my generous pours from the communal beer bottles (Antarctica, my Brazilian beer of choice).  I didn't catch his name—I'm really bad at that—but we had a nice chat. Well, it turns out this guy is the vice-president of the Velha Guarda of the escola de samba (samba school) Estácio de Sá, the oldest Carnaval samba school (these are like the krewes of New Orleans Mardi Gras) in Rio. The Velha Guarda is the Old Guard, guys who have been at the samba and carnaval game since dinosaurs roamed the earth. He was, in his day, a passista, or dancer, and was, at some point, the lead male dance figure of the escola. Very cool.  He told me he started participating in Carnaval in 1946, but I forgot to ask him what age he was then. I think he is now about 70-something; he told me that, at least.

When I told him of my Brazilian party in Austin, HIS eyes lit up and he went over and grabbed the leader of the samba band which was now on break. He introduced me to him because he thought I might be interested in hiring them to play in the States.

Kid playing tamborim
Now, this band which played most of the afternoon, was composed of members of HIS escola, Estácio de Sá, so of course he was interested in hooking me, an important music producer from the US of A, up with these guys from his school.

We talked for a bit, he took my business card, and then dragged over a few more important members of the band. (I have already received an email from them...they want to set up a meeting so we can talk about some sort of tour of the US!!!!) Then they went back to business and played another couple of hours. More or less.

So I shot some video and some still photos and had a great time watching this amazing gathering.

What was interesting was the total lack of any sort of demographic pigeon-holing. The ages ran from four or so to eighty something. Black. White. Brown. Tan. And Very White, that would be me! Brazil is like that. Music and such events attract people from all ages and races, and they all get involved with equal enthusiasm in the party. Everyone knows the words to all the songs, and certain songs induce some sort of mass euphoria which I have NEVER seen in the USA. Never. People grin from ear to ear, sing along with the band, dance, either on the dance floor, or at their tables. And people start hugging each other expressing their happiness with the atmosphere, the music and the camaraderie. It is really amazing and inspiring. Why don't we have this in the US?  (Other than football fans singing The Eyes of Texas, or some other such hollow sorts of community spirit....)

Here is a little video of my new friends, the samba band Turma do Estácio (the gang from Estácio)—

When the Estácio guys finished, some awards were handed out to significant contributors to the Cordão.

And then they brought out the heavy artillery.

This was in the form of part of the drum group—the batería—of the samba school Acadêmcos do Salgueiro, one of Rio's most popular escolas de samba. These ostentatious, yet exciting, groups participate in the big, showy parades, competitions, really, in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. This is BIG business, and very serious. The escolas parade in groups of several thousand, and the drum section alone can surpass 400 members!!!  On this day, Salgueiro only sent a couple dozen players, and a handful of their passistas—dancers, remember?

Austin's own samba school, the Acadêmicos da Ópera, who perform with about 100 members at my little shindig, are greatly influenced by this escola. I could even hear it in the drumming.

So, the Salgueiro folks did their thing. I was exhausted just watching them. But it was very satisfying, and a great way to enjoy a Saturday afternoon in the midst of truly fun-loving people, some fantastic food, some spellbinding music, and to meet some new pals.

If anyone needs to hire a great samba group from Rio, and is willing to pay their airfare to Austin, and to run the gauntlet through US Immigration to get them their travel visas, give me a shout. I have a great contact and will be meeting them soon!

Here are the passistas and batería from GRES Acadêmicos do Salgueiro!!!!

Pizza Hut in Rio...A (Bad) Sign of the Times :(

There was a time when I would have done anything to have a lunch in Rio de Janeiro. Or a dinner. The food was so honest, rich and flavorful. And very inexpensive. Rio had its own style of food, yeah, lots of beans and rice, but great seafood, wonderful meats, understated desserts, plenty of cheap, cold beer, and, almost always, a very home-grown ambience in just about every restaurant and cafe.

Well, those days are fading fast. No question the old-style eats are still around, but they don't seem to be of the same level of quality as they used to be, the portions smaller, the prices higher. Yeah, they still exist.

However, what frightens me is that more and more foreign, mostly from the good ol' USA, chains are opening up. Within a few minutes of my hotel, which is located in a very un-touristy part of town, are a Domino's Pizza, a Subway, a KFC and a McDonalds, among others I can't recall.

And last night I read a review in Brazil's largest news magazine, Veja, of a Pizza Hut in Rio. And it wasn't just a review, it featured a "call out" with a giant photo of a nasty, grotesque Pizza Hut pizza, which seems identical to the billion pizzas they serve every year in the US.  Gross, some of the worst pizza I've ever had (long story as to why I ever tried it...).  The review praised PH's wonderful pizzas, the crusts, the toppings, everything. Not once did they even mention the ridiculous prices for such imported tastelessness: how about THIRTY DOLLARS for a large supreme????!!!!!  You have to be kidding???!!!  Now, I don't know if PH coupons Rio like they do at home where anyone paying "rack rates" for PH pizza is an idiot, when, with a coupon you can get a pizza for about half or even one-third the MSRP. Nope, I doubt they offer such enticements here. Sadly, Cariocas have been duped again by American crap. They happily pay astronomical prices for some of the world's worst pizza, just because it is branded with a "famous" name from Gringolandia. On an online food forum, I saw a reader's comment about this very PH in Rio which proclaimed that the PH pie was "the most spectacular pizza I've ever eaten."

Pelo amor de deus!!!!

Are you kidding? The most spectacular pizza?  Now, what makes this idolization of America's contribution to the growing heap of the world's worst food is that Brazil actually has some fantastic pizza. Admittedly, the pizza in São Paulo is far better than in Rio, but still, Rio has some pretty decent pizza, and it's found all over the city. To simply discard this native pizza for something clearly inferior just because it comes from the USA is sad, ignorant and doesn't bode well for the traditional cuisine, including pizza, of this great city.

On that same web-based food forum, I read a discussion of another import, Outback Steakhouse, which is taking Brazil by storm. What is funny is that they think the food is Australian! Ignoring the fact that Outback is an American fantasyland theme restaurant chain based in Tampa, Florida!!!! Is their proximity to DisneyWorld just a coincidence? I think not!  Again, the absurdity is that Rio is generously peppered with home-grown restaurants which feature damn good steaks and other cuts of beef, pork, etc. I guess their weakness is not having a "bloomin' onion" on their traditional menus. Ahh, Australian food at it's peak!!!!

This obsession with things Gringo extends to just about every aspect of life here. And it ain't good. I saw a t-shirt worn by a twenty-something female last Saturday night which said on the front, something like:

"My project of Friday
is finished.
Now I'm ready for the good

On the back was printed a gigantic ladybug, outlined in glitter! Very girly. Totally ridiculous. I couldn't figure out who this shirt was marketed to. The ladybug eliminated the grunge crowd. The language on the front threw out the kids' market. So, do buyers just not know what the front says? Do they think it's funny? What is this????

The inventory of other such silly-gismic shirts is seemingly infinite. As I see others, I'll report back. Yeah, I know we have incorrectly used Italian, French, etc printed on t-shirts in the USA. I've seen a few. And if I see the Italian plural of sandwich, "panini", used in the singular on a menu again, instead of the correct form for ONE sandwich, "panino", I may go postal. But I am pretty certain that, on the whole, Americans are not obsessed with Italy, France, or even Brazil, the way Brazilians pine over, and adopt the very worst of American cultural expression. Though we do a pretty good job of screwing up things when we do borrow....

Now, just to make my perspective clear: Americans are far more advanced in discarding the authentic expressions of their culture in favor of the paper-cutout versions of cuisine, music, film, clothing—for example—and being led by the nose by multinational corporations’ propaganda and brain washing. So most restaurants get prepackaged everything from the likes of Sysco instead of buying potatoes and peeling them in-house for mashed, fries or whatever. Even guacamole comes in a can for restaurants! This is true even in many, perhaps MOST mom+pop cafes and restaurants. One day at the legendary, but very basic, small town BBQ joint Mueller's in Taylor, Texas, where they still make the sausage themselves, I saw a delivery guy drop off bags of precut coleslaw mix. That certainly burst a bubble or two. America, you should be proud of your advancement to a world of totally processed and prepackaged cuisine! Congratulations. You are now exporting your great evolutionary wisdom to the rest of the world.

Now that I've pissed off all the Brazilians (and many Americans too), I'm gonna close. Will have another post soon lauding one of Brazil's best forms of cultural expression: SAMBA!!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Deja Vu In Rio de Janeiro

Weird how things work sometimes. I swear this was not intentional, but I am back in Rio exactly one year to the day after my last visit. Even more weird: I am experiencing some of the exact same things, more or less, that I experienced last year on this trip. Or that trip. THIS is this trip. But it is already seeming like THAT trip. What a trip!  More on this soon.  (For a peek at why I am in Brazil, and what it means to me, see my first post from THAT other trip: )

I left Portland on Thursday morning, and, until I reached Miami, everything went surprisingly well. All my flights were on time, even a few minutes early. Even the Portland mass transit trip to the airport was on time for a change. But when I reached Miami and saw that my 11:30pm flight to Rio would leave at 12:30am, I was a bit disheartened. But an hour late isn't terrible, so I went to the john, did my thing, then rechecked the airport monitor to see if, perhaps, my flight had been rescheduled to be a bit earlier than midnight and a half.

Fuck. No!  I can't believe this.

The monitor thumbed its nose at me:  2 AM!!!!!!

Two in the morning!  The flight was now going to be two and a half hours late. Fuck! again.

So I decided to get some beer to calm my shattering nerves, and to find something decent to was almost 11pm.

(At this point in writing this entry, my internet connection went down. Actually, I had already written several more paragraphs...and now, I can't remember what they said, and you are already bored reading this so I'm picking this up the next day to finish it and post it.)

Let's say I found a lousy burger....and two Sam Adams Lagers. And, then????!!!! What? Again? Now the flight was scheduled to leave at 2:30. Hey what's another 30 minutes at 3am, when you are already nearly three hours late?  At least they didn't cancel the flight!

We actually left the ground at 3:30AM!!!  An hour sitting in the plane after pushing back from the gate. Waiting for clearance to leave an absolutely dead airport. What was that about?

Escaped the Rio airport, which is named after Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the "founders" of bossa nova, and composer of many of your favorite elevator tunes. My pal Celso, aka Celsinho do Pandeiro, had been waiting there since 10:30...I'd tried to warn him with several emails from the Miami airport, but he didn't really pay attention to them.

Since it was so late, we skipped my traditional "arrival in Rio" lunch at Cafe Lamas because Celso (and I) were due at the broadcast studios of Rio's Radio Nacional for a live broadcast of which, he is the assistant producer.

The weekly live broadcast features the BEST choro group on the planet,
Conjunto Época de Ouro, and Celso's pop and brother are in the group. For lovers of virtuoso guitar and other string instrument playing, these guys should be on your very short list. 
Here is a quote from my posting in early October of last year in this blog: 
Oh, the group: the very hallowed Conjunto Epoca de Ouro, the absolute best choro group
Jacob do Bandolim
in Brazil, i.e., the universe. They are celebrating 45 years of performing, even though only one original member is still playing. The group was formed by the legendary Jacob do Bandolim, Brazil's greatest-ever mandolin player whose career covered the 1940s through the late '60s. His field, called choro, is a fantastic, complex music which began sort of parallel to ragtime in the USA and some of the early piano recording even sound a bit like ragtime if you squint your ears while listening. Though it nearly disappeared after Jacob's death, his group, Epoca de Ouro, reformed somewhere around 1973 or so and, thanks to some exposure via some concerts with samba great Paulinho da Viola (whose dad, Cesar Faria was a founding member of EDO, as well as guitarist with Paulinho...the family ties here are gonna get confusing because two other founding members were the brothers of the last surviving member, Jorginho do Pandeiro who joined later, and Jorginho's son Jorge Filho is also a member of the group...Celso is also Jorginho's gets even more complex, but we'll save that for another day...)
(For that entire post, see here! )

Epoca de Ouro Rehearsal
Anyway, we arrived in time, about 3pm, to witness a last minute rehearsal and sound check. I just love hearing these guys, and I must tell you that being able to know these folks, and to be able to hang out with them as I do makes me one of the luckiest humans alive. This is no exaggeration. The guys discussed adding some tunes to the show, argued about who gets to suggest songs for their repertoire, and then, MAGIC!  They took the stage in front of the small studio audience, and began to play. For two hours they displayed their art as listeners called in comments and requests. A live announcer stitched all this together, engaging each of the musicians between songs in banter about the music and their connections to it. Fascinating stuff. 
Celso, Jorge Filho and Jorginho do Pandeiro

We don't have anything like this on radio in the USA these days, a weekly show with the same group playing through an endless list of fantastic tunes. I was impressed by the number of calls they received, and the largely well-informed nature of the calls. They even received one from a former member of the group, the mandolin player who first took over Jacob do Bandolim's place in the band, Deo Rian. Nice. Anyway, this program is a throwback to the way radio used to be: all totally live, no recordings. And this very studio at Radio Nacional is where some of Brasil's greatest musicians used to entertain and promote their careers, people like Pixinguinha, Carmen Miranda, Lupicinio Rodrigues, Jacob do Bandolim, Luiz Gonzaga and just about anyone worth hearing from the mid-1930s through the 1950s. Amazing history, and the walls here could really tell some interesting stories, and play some of the best music ever made anywhere in the world. Damn! I am so lucky!

Ronaldo do Bandolim (Mandolin)
Toni Sete Cordas (Seven String Guitar Toni)

Antonio Rocha

I video taped (tape? what's that?  actually, video chipped in this case...on a tiny chip the size of a quarter) about an hour's worth of the two hour show. I will eventually edit these selections into a cohesive short film (film?), but for now, how about one song? This is Cochichando (Whispering, or, Buzzing), a classic choro composed by the greatest choro master of all time, Pixinguinha. By the way, this was a request phoned in by a listener, so they were not really prepared to play it, so watch how masterfully they handle this great piece of music! WATCH THIS THING!

Nice, huh? Did  you watch the video???

So we packed up the gear and headed to a place that used to be a favorite in Rio, the historic Cafe Lamas which first opened for business in 1874 or thereabouts. I've been a fan since my first visit in 1980 when a bohemian journalist friend, Aristélio Andrade introduced me to it. Lamas was a hangout of artists, bohemians and Aristélio for decades and I just loved the what does that make me???

Unfortunately, Lamas hasn't maintained the quality of their food, while the prices have absolutely skyrocketed. Celso, Jorge Filho, Jorginho do Pandeiro and I all were shocked by the prices. But we stayed, had some great conversation, some okay food, and decided never to return....Lamas served me well for thirty years, but I will now have to find another temple to those golden years of bohemian life in Rio de Janeiro. Any suggestions?