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 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.

2 comments on “Playing ketchup

  1. Cynthia Patterson

    Mikey, the first day I was in SP (my first day in Brazil ever) I walked to a grocery store and plucked a bar of Phebo off the shelf. What's the deal in Rio ?


  2. my local pharmacy had some, not much. then my supermarket restocked the shelf and I harvested tons of the black soap, and a few others. reminds me of Waldimas's apt. in Sao Paulo…..


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