Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 22, 2015

Meatfree Somedays – for Summer


By Ernest Barteldes

As I wrote a few weeks back, during summer I avoid using the oven unless I absolutely have to during summer because it is just unbearable to stand in my kitchen when the mercury hits 90 (or 31 in Celsius). However, that is not the only thing I try not to do – I also avoid making dishes that take too long to cook even if I’m using the stovetop – this might seem something difficult to accomplish, but the truth is that it really isn’t – if you are willing be a bit open-minded.

Vegetarian dishes are among the easiest and fastest to cook – in fact many times the actual cooking time runs below 15 minutes – sure, there might be a lot of slicing and dicing at times, but once the whole dish comes together quite quickly. Sure, meat lovers might question having that hole in their plate (as Paul McCartney himself stated when he and his late wife Linda decided to ‘go veggie’ almost four decades ago), but I am sure that going meat-free could be an option once or twice the week when you don’t want to spend too much time by the stove and still don’t want to order takeout.

A few weeks back Renata and I returned from an afternoon at our local stretch of beach on Staten Island (it’s not the best place, but it sure beats the obnoxious boom boxes on Coney Island). It was a hot and sticky day, but I was definitely prepared: with simple ingredients I whipped up a simple and nutritious meal that only took some angel hair pasta, tofu and a few veggies sautéed in sesame oil – dinner was ready within minutes, accompanied by a simple green salad topped with avocado and blue cheese dressing.

Do you really need anything else?

Vegetable Lo Mein

Vegetables Lo Mein

(4 servings)

Source: The Higher Taste

½ lb. angel hair pasta

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium carrot cut in thin strips

2 cups cauliflower cut into small florets

1 green pepper, thinly sliced

¼ Chinese pea pods, trimmed

½ lb. firm tofu, cubed

3 tablespoons soy sauce (more to taste)

2 tablespoons sesame oil

Instructions:

Cook spaghetti, just until tender, Drain and rinse in cold water. Place in a large bowl, toss with 1 tablespoon oil, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Combine all the vegetables with the tofu and set aside.

In wok heat 2 tablespoons oil and add spaghetti. Stir gently until it is evenly coated. Continue to fry the spaghetti over medium heat until lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Mix in the vegetables and tofu. Stir fry for 5 minutes longer. Add soy sauce, cover, and stem over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove lid, stir in sesame oil and serve hot.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 18, 2015

The Case for Reusable Bags vs. Plastic Bags


By Ernest Barteldes

On our first trip to Poland together, I walked into a Carrefour in a shopping mall in Krakow to buy a few supplies for a long bus trip Renata and I were taking to Chelm. After I paid for the groceries, the cashier did not give me a plastic bag for the stuff I bought. I was a bit surprised, but since I don’t speak Polish, I could not ask for one so I just scrambled and held everything in my hands – Renata was not with me to help because she was looking for something at another shop.

After she returned, we walked together into the market and asked for a plastic bag, and we were informed that we had to pay for one – it was a small amount (something like a nickel US) but it kind of threw me for a loop. I had heard that places like Farmers’ Market on Union Square were charging for plastic bags, but I had never seen it done in a supermarket. I did not really mind the move, really. I had been using reusable bags for some time (yes, I was that hippie in your supermarket) and I just guessed that Poland had gone the extra mile.  When we got to Renata’s hometown and visited her local market, the first thing I did was buy a reusable bag – and took one with me the next time we visited the country again in 2014.

Ever since I learned about how using disposable bags can be bad for the environment, I have been trying my best not to use them. Though in Manhattan doing so has become quite commonplace, Staten Island has not gotten there yet.  I am apparently still a bit of an odd cat – I am yet to see anyone use reusable bags in my local supermarket or at the nearby wine store. Indeed, every time I buy wine the lady at the counter automatically pulls out a plastic bag, even when I am standing with an old canvas LAMC bag in my hands.

I have not, however, completely ruled out plastic out of my life. I often shop at certain stores in Manhattan during the week and sometimes I just don’t happen to have my cloth bags around. However, I always reuse them to pack our lunches (containers might leak) and also for trash.  Whenever I buy a small number of items I just stuff them in my backpack – why create waste in the first place?

Here in New York there is talk of creating a surcharge for plastic bags, and it has already become a political issue. Since Bill de Blasio is the first democratic mayor of this city in two decades, right wingers and the media that support them have made it a point of attacking every single one of his moves – and plastic is no exception.

Things get worse elsewhere in America. This week, New York Magazine ran a very comprehensive piece on the topic, pointing out that a number of red-state legislators have actually put anti-plastic ban laws on the books to avoid measures against them.  As the article states, a city councilwoman in Tempe, Arizona tried to create some kind of initiative to reduce the use of plastic bags in her town, but found out that the state had worked out a way to stop her before she could even begin. “The Arizona State Legislature,” the article reads, “passed SB 1241, a health-care bill with a curious amendment that declared that no city or town may ‘impose a tax, fee, assessment, charge or return deposit … for auxiliary containers.’ In an unexpected, Dr. Seussian twist, Arizona had preemptively banned the ban: You ban bags? We’ll ban bag bans! Arizona is not the first state to enact a ban ban; Florida did so in 2008, and Missouri and Texas are investigating similar legislation.”

When I read this I was dumbfounded – it means that basically whatever environmentalists are for, republicans are against as a matter of principle even if it ultimately hurts everyone. Never mind that plastic is one of the greatest single polluters in the world and that reducing the amount of the stuff around would immensely help reduce the amount of waste on our landfills. As the piece also points out, the press here is sharply divided. The New York Times, it recalls, put a piece in favor of a small surcharge for plastic bags while the Murdoch-owned New York Post published an editorial opposing it simply because it is an environmental issue.

If you want my opinion, both sides are wrong for politicizing this. The simple fact is that that we overuse plastic in this country. Why do you buy a bottle of water (another problem, but let’s focus here) and put it in a plastic bag only to discard the bag the moment you walk out of the store? Do you really need a temporary container for a coke and a bag of Doritos as you make your way home from work?

Sure, some folk might say that plastic surcharges or bans would hurt low-income, minority neighborhoods, but that is simply not true. Reusable bags go for as little as a dollar in many stores, which basically give them away at a loss as an incentive for their customers to stop using disposable bags. Trader Joe’s, for instance, sells wine totes for 65 cents – is it really too much to ask when you are buying a $30 bottle of Barolo? I still have the very first tote I bought there – it has lasted over four years.

Other businesses have also created other ways to get their customers to consider using reusable bags – Astor Wines in the East Village gives customers a ten-cent discount if they bring their own bags. It doesn’t seem much, but if you are a regular customer it surely adds up – if you buy wine on a weekly basis, at the end of the year you will have saved over five bucks – enough for one of these cheaper brands some use for picnics or at parties after the good stuff is gone.

The thing is that hoping people will get educated simply doesn’t work. How many people even look at those “Green Birdie” ads on the subway? Hoping people will do it on their own simply won’t work – just ask the civil rights activists trying to reason with the Bible belt. While I am not really in favor of outright bans, I think that getting folks in their pocketbook will ultimately work – taxing cigarettes and water bottles forced folks to think twice about their everyday habits, and if past is prologue, charging for those plastic bags might not make them disappear, but you will certainly see folks reusing bags if they have to pay for something else.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 6, 2015

Summer Cooking: Keeping it Cool and Simple


by Ernest Barteldes

Although I love to cook elaborate dishes on weekends during most of the year, that is simply not true during the hot summer months. First of all, my kitchen is not air conditioned (we have one machine  in the bedroom, but the rest of the apartment is cooled by various fans since both Renata and I spend most of our downtime in the bedroom, where the TV is), there is almost no need to have other conditioners anywhere else.

Also, it is just too hot to eat heavy dishes that need to spend a lot of time in the oven. I recall one time when I decided to bake a quiche (one of Renata’s favorite breakfast dishes) when it was around 90F (about 33C) outside. Sure enough, the oven made the temperature in the kitchen almost unbearable and I started feeling sick and ended up being unable to perform at church that day. After that day, I decided I would mostly ‘ retire’ the oven for summer and try to learn light dishes that did not require too much fuss.  After all, who wants to spend hours in a hot kitchen making something that would be too hot for the season in the first place?

There are a number of dishes that I reserve for summer, such as cold spaghetti in a garlic-tomato sauce (the sauce is made with raw tomatoes, basil and sautéed garlic), grilled chicken in hoisin sauce and other dishes that don’t take too long to cook. That ‘tradition’ of sorts began when Renata and I came back from a sweaty set at Central Park Summerstage and she asked me not to cook anything heavy, so I made a light salad and cold pasta – it was a relief from the usual fare I’d been cooking before, so I’ve  sought out to learn more summer-friendly recipes since then.

One of the most recent was one I stumbled into while checking out the Brazilian newspaper O Globo. Over the years, I have tried to be in touch with the news of the countries we travel to on a regular basis – I try to scan through papers in Poland, The Dominican Republic and Brazil at least once a week – specially because US news outlets tend to ignore international news unless it’s some crazy breach of human rights or something.

The recipe is perfect for summer – eggs, spinach, cream cheese and smoked salmon rolled up together and jelly roll-style and chilled until ready to serve. Renata fell in love with it immediately, and it has since become a regular for our lazy summer days.

Spinach and Salmon Roll

Source: Ela O Globo

Ingredients:

1 lb chopped spinach

6 large eggs, whites and yolks separated

Butter to line baking pan

Flour to line baking pan

¾ package cream cheese

8 oz. smoked salmon

Preparation:

Steam the spinach until tender. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold yolks and spinach and mix well. Grease a baking pan with the butter and add the flour. Pour the spinach mixture into the pan and top with the parmesan over the pan, about ½ inch thick. Bake in oven at 350F (180°C) from 15 so 20 minutes and remove from oven. When cool, turn pan over firm plastic wram, making sure the parmesan layer is in the bottom. Spread the cream cheese over the cooked spinach and eggswith the help of the plastic wrap, jelly roll style. Let rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, and immediately before serving remove the wrap and cut in slices.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 1, 2015

Fire Island: Our Not-So-Far Riviera


Ernest Barteldes:

Summer is here… How about a visit to Fire Island?

Originally posted on In the Kitchen and Around The World:

Lighthouse Beach Lighthouse Beach

It took me a while to discover Fire Island – I was aware of it via comments from people I have known over the years, but the only thing I heard was that it was mostly an LGBT hangout where people hung out nude on the beach – quite an incorrect stereotype that I came to learn about when Renata and I made our first visit back in 2011, when I finally realized what the island was about.
The Fire Island Lighthouse
On that first visit we booked a hotel on Bay Shore, Long Island since we were unaware that the hotels on the island itself (they are not listed on websites like Expedia or Hotwire – more on that later). We found a little motel with little to offer except a convenient location near supermarkets and about half a mile from the ferry terminal.

We woke up early on Memorial Day…

View original 528 more words

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 23, 2015

The Brazil Report 2015 : Final Thoughts


By Ernest Barteldes

Before I close the topic on our last trip to Brazil, I would like to share a few  final thoughts about the trip and my impressions of the country after a four-year absence caused by exorbitant ticket prices that only relented this year, when there are  no major events going on there.

The first thing I noticed was the change of attitude when it comes to punctuality – in the past, we’d plan something for a certain hour but it was accepted that everyone would be ‘fashionably late.’  At every experience we had there, folks were either early or precisely on time.  Mind you, this was not a one-off event but something that happened every single time with no exception, including concerts, which used to be notoriously late there.

I recall arriving at the 14-Bis show a few minutes behind schedule and found myself entering as the opening act was already playing. The same happened the next day at the Ivete Sangalo & Criollo Tim Maia tribute, which started precisely at 5:00 PM as announced.

I am not sure if this is a recent thing. Back in 2009, Renata and I went to a show at a jazz club in Rio that was announced for 7 PM but it was well after 9:00 when the artist finally took the stage. It was a drag to just sit there and wait but what else could I do? I am glad that this attitude is changing, and I hope it reaches my expatriate Brazilian friends here in New York – most of them are still “old school” about it.

Both in Fortaleza and Salvador there was a feeling of insecurity – many of our friends and relatives there kept telling us to be careful with muggers. Crime is apparently high in certain areas of both cities, and residents are afraid – most lock themselves inside their apartment complexes and only go anywhere in their cars.

I didn’t feel like that when I was there – when in Brazil, I routinely take public transit and walk the streets at various hours. But I do so by keeping a aware of my surroundings. Renata and I never flash cellphones or wear anything that might bring attention to us  – except if we are going somewhere fancy, I always dress in T-shirts, sandals and shorts, and Renata doesn’t wear any jewelry except for a bracelet or two that no thief would look at twice.   We also try to keep our voices low so folks won’t realize we are not speaking Portuguese (Renata still hasn’t learned – but then again my Polish is pretty non-existent).

In spite of my own feeling of safety,  I understand where they are coming from –  a day after we left, there was news on the Fortaleza papers that a an off-duty police investigator drove off as an attacker tried  to mug her while she was in her car. As she fled, the assailant pulled a gun and shot at the car killed her. One could argue that the crime happened in an area that is currently going through a process of gentrification, but watching the footage (available on the link above) online just makes your blood curdle (an arrest was made shortly after the crime took place).

On our previous trip, I was walking down Beira-Mar Avenue to get a caipirinha at a street stand not far from my mom’s apartment. As I walked over, a TV crew stopped me to ask if I didn’t feel scared of being out like that after 11 PM in an area where tourists are frequently targeted. I said I really wasn’t because I don’t consider myself a visitor in Fortaleza, and that I basically keep my eyes open. Unfortunately, this sense of fear is something folks in large cities in Brazil have to grapple with every day – and that is something that is apparently not going away anytime soon.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 17, 2015

The Brazil Report Part III: Fortaleza, Land of The Sun


By Ernest Barteldes

As I told you on the first part of this travel series, for us Fortaleza is  mostly about relaxing and spending time with   friends and family, so I am not going to bore you with endless  details about  get-togethers and reminiscing with  former co-workers from IBEU, the binational language institution I worked at for almost a decade.

After all, the visit was not just about that but also about music and culture – even if the latter was a bit of an unexpected surprise that we ran into while shopping in downtown Fortaleza, where we always head to during our visits to get artisanal products.

When we arrived in Fortaleza we proceeded to make plans for the next few days. We got in touch with a former bandmate and found out that 14-Bis – a band from the state of Minas Gerais that collaborated many times with Milton Nascimento.

The concert was at Centro Dragao do Mar de Arte e Cultura, a multimedia venue that features a major concert stage, two movie theaters, a planetarium, a library, an art gallery and numerous restaurants where other performances also take place throughout the year. It is a place that we always visit and enjoy going back to – its construction in 1999  transformed an old, run-down commercial area (it was once also a red-light district) into something truly beautiful.

14-Bis was in great shape – they concentrated on their 80s and 90s hits when co-founder Flavio Venturini was still in the band, and had great response from the audience and a favorable review from yours truly.

The next morning we set our sights on the beach, and spent some time at our favorite Praia do Futuro beachfront restaurant, Chico do Caranguejo,On the way back, we witnessed a city bus run over a small dog. The poor thing was clearly suffering as its guts spilled on the ground – a sickening sight.  We chased after the bus until I was close enough to take a picture of the vehicle with my phone. I tweeted the shot to various papers and radio stations in town, but there was no response – I guess folks there are not as sensitive to these things as they are in the US.

In the evening we headed to Aterro Praia do Iracema to catch a concert we’d been planning to attend even before we got to Fortaleza – singer Ivete Sangalo joined forces with rapper Criolo for a series of free concerts in tribute to Tim Maia, the late singer-songwriter whose work has enjoyed quite a rediscovery since his untimely death almost two decades ago.

The concerts – which are part of a national tour – were sponsored by Nivea, the multinational skin care corporation. Sangalo and Criolo played many of Maia’s best-known tunes and also a few obscure ones, including “Depois,” which was recently covered by Marisa Monte. Sangalo is quite comfortable with Maia’s material, since she includes several of his tunes on her regular live appearances. Criolo also did a very good job and also talked about his Fortaleza roots (his mom was reportedly in attendance). I was planning to write a proper review of that show, but it was just impossible to take notes in the middle of a crowd of thousands.

Another highlight of the trip was when a classmate from my college years drove us to Centro das Tapioqueiras, an artisanal center in the district of Messejana that serves traditional dishes – mostly tapioca (no relation to the drink of the same name) – they serve it stuffed with meat, chicken or shrimp – think of a stuffed pancake made with regional ingredients. There Renata fell in love with a kitten that fell into her graces, and if it weren’t for the bureaucracy we might have brought her back as a companion for our own cat, Sparky,

Fortaleza’s Central Market, like Mercado Modelo in Salvador, is the place to go for artisan goods ranging from clothing to souvenirs. It has three floors with several boxes, and it’s a great place to find a good bargain – if you know how to haggle. Around the market are several other shops that sell inexpensive clothing, kitchen tools and the like – we always make a stop there when in town,.

As we strolled through downtown Fortaleza we stopped at the central post office to get a few stamps (Renata is big about sending postcards) and stumbled into a touching photo exhibit called “In My Country, My Sexuality is A Crime,” which depicts many gay men from countries like Ghana, Jamaica, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia who suffer with anti-gay laws and also prejudice. I wrote more extensively on my Music Whatever blog, but I must say that it was a testament of how far we’ve come but also how things have stayed the same in less enlightened nations.

It was great to be in Fortaleza again after a four-year absence. It was a great chance to just relax, hear some great music, see many who we have missed and welcome new additions to the family that were not around during our last visit.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 9, 2015

The Brazil Report Part 2: Around Salvador and Itaparica


By Ernest Barteldes

On our second day in Salvador we woke up early and right after a nice breakfast headed to Itaparica, an island about 10 miles from the Bahian capital. The location is famous for its very clean beaches and also for the handful of resorts that exist there.  The village of Itaparica is home to about 55,000 people, many of whom are fishermen.

The only way to get to the island is by taking a ferry boat that departs from the port of Salvador, about a 10-minute cab ride from our hotel in the historical district.  I commented with Renata that we seem to be unable to live without that kind of transportation – we live on Staten Island and use the service here, and we also often ride ferries to places like Fire Island.  Each ride costs R$ 4.50 (about $1.25 as of this writing) and it takes about an hour to get there. The ride is very slow but quite scenic – you get great views of the city and the sea, and there is a snack bar that sells pastries, soft drinks and beer. There also authorized vendors selling everything from fresh fruit to local souvenirs.

Upon arrival we took a cab to the main beach, and the driver dropped us off at Mike’s, one of the few beachfront restaurants open then since this was low season and heavy rains that plagued the area had discouraged tourists from visiting.  At the place there were only a couple of tables occupied – something that had not changed for the whole time we were there.

The beach didn’t seem very clean because the rain had washed leaves, twigs and other things onto the shores, but that was clearly not pollution – it was just a consequence of the season. The water, however, was crystal clear and warm. We sat with a drink for a while and later ordered the traditional moqueca (Brazilian fish stew), Bahia’s signature dish. We were given various choices of fresh fish, mixed seafood or shrimp, and we settled with the fish. The fish – cooked in a clay pot – was served with sides of rice, farofa, pirao (a sort of gravy made with yucca flour and the cooking sauce) and hot pepper sauce. It was really delicious and filling – one of the best ever. As we ate, a stray cat walked up to us and gave us the “needy” look, so we gave him the fish’s head since none of us was interested in it. He ate quickly and stayed around us for a while. After the meal, we settled the check, went for a walk to the beach and returned to the ferry about an hour before sundown.

After a shower and a light dinner we met with two of my cousins and headed to the now-trendy neighborhood of Praia da Barra. The area recently received an overhaul that included an expansion of the sidewalks and a car-free walk right by the beach. We took a few photos and then headed to Pereira, a high-end restaurant where we sat for drinks and talked – I hadn’t met that side of my family for over a decade, so there was a lot to talk about. Luckily both of them spoke English so I didn’t have to do any interpreting for Renata. Brazilians are mostly beer drinkers (which suits the climate of the region), but I decided to have some red wine – bad idea, since the wine was served just below room temperature and it was definitely not a refreshing experience.

The next morning we walked back to Pelourinho and paid a visit to the Jorge Amado House Foundation, which is home to two exhibits on the life and works of Amado and his also-prolific wife Zelia Gattai. On the top floor we see a chronology of his work from the 1920s, the many adaptations of his work to the cinema and TV and some memorabilia, including his typewriter, some of his other possessions, movie posters, different translated versions of his books and both the uniforms he and Gattai wore as members of the Brazilian Academy of Letters (she took his chair after he passed in 2001). There are also multi-language touch screens with information on his works. The bottom floor tells the story of Amado and Gattai’s long marriage, photos of their children and also her own literary canon. The walls also display where each of their books were published, including Portugal, Poland, Russia, Germany and the United States.

As we left the historical district we made a quick stop at the Memorial of the Baianas do Acarajé, a small hall dedicated to the baianas who make acaraje. The room shows the entire process of making the acarajé from mashing the beans all the way to the final product, and the history of the baianas who make them.

After leaving the museum we headed over to the Lacerda Elevator, which connects the higher and lower parts of downtown Salvador (the city has hills everywhere and it was built around and over them).  The ride has the symbolic charge of R$ 0.15 (about a nickel) but it is pretty ordinary – nothing panoramic or anything since it is not really a tourist attraction – just a way for people to get around and once in the lower part headed to Mercado Modelo, the city’s main destination for artisanal goods. It is a place where you can freely negotiate prices with the vendors. We bought a few gifts for friends back home and  some souvenirs and when we got hungry we found an inexpensive salad bar nearby after we realized that the two restaurants inside were nothing but overpriced tourist traps.

Our next stop was the Sanctuary of Nosso Senhor do Bomfim, arguably the most famous church in the entire state. Built in 1772, it is on top of a hill in the neighborhood that ultimately took its name. It is a beautiful baroque church and is also the location of one of the most revered religious festivities in the city, The Feast of Bomfim. While we were there we met two Polish tourists – one of whom was a history teacher who wanted to see the famed “azulejos” (tiles) on the sides of the temple.

When we returned to our hotel the bakery where we’d been purchasing sandwiches was already closed, so we headed downhill for a bar where they’d been making inexpensive chicken and sausage kebabs. Once satisfied, we visited Oliveira’s House Bar right across the street from the hotel where we were told there’d be some jazz. Sure enough, there was a trumpet and guitar duo playing a mix of Brazilian and American jazz standards (“Corcovado” and “Take 5” were among the tunes they did). They were very good, and during the break they invited musicians who were there to sit in. I could not resist, and took my ukulele and did Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell” with them. They seemed to have appreciated my playing, because they invited me to continue and improvise on a blues piece. Thankfully, Renata captured it all on camera and I uploaded it to YouTube.

On our final day before heading to Fortaleza, we returned to Praia da Barra and visited the Nautical Museum inside the lighthouse. There we saw the history of the early navigational journeys to Brazil, replicas of various generations of ships and also the some artifacts from the lighthouse’s military past.

We then walked around the beach for a while and stopped for lunch at a small restaurant called Boteco do Farol where we ate a light lunch of chicken “a passarinho” (cut in bite-size pieces served with salad and farofa).  As the afternoon wound down, we went back to our hotel and packed our bags – it was time to leave Bahia and head to the second leg of our trip in Northeastern Brazil.


IMG_1492

By Ernest Barteldes

The last time I’d visited Salvador was over a decade ago. I was enroute to New York and found myself in a 7-hour layover there, so instead of waiting for my connection I called my cousin (a longtime resident of that city) and we had a meal and hung around the historic district of Pelourinho until it was time to go back to the airport.

Whenever we travel to Brazil we try to spend a few days somewhere new before going to my second hometown of Fortaleza, where it’s basically friends and family time (not complaining here in case it sounds like that) – for instance we have taken the chance to visit Rio, Jericoacoara and the hills of the state of Ceara in recent visits, so we felt it was the time to check out one of the cities with the most cultural and historical heritages in the nation.

Salvador is known not only for its fantastic landmarks but for its music and culinary, which blends elements of Africa, native Brazilian and Portugal with fantastic results. The historic center of Pelourinho is a UNESCO World Heritage site with buildings that were built during Brazil’s colonial era.  Bahia is home to many of the country’s most notable artists, including Joao Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethania and Tom Zé in music, Castro Alves, Ruy Barbosa, Jorge Amado and Zelia Gattai in literature, Glauber Rocha in cinema and many others in various art forms.

Bahia also has the sadder reputation of being the first place in Brazil to import African slaves who toiled in the vital sugar cane industry but who also were the largest contributors to the local culture – today, more than 80 per cent of Salvador is of African-American heritage, and that can be felt on every street.

pousada

When we arrived we were met at the airport by my cousin Sandra and her husband Ritt, both longtime residents of Salvador. They took us to lunch at Balthazar, a high-end self-service style restaurant (they are very popular in Brazil) which they used to own.  The food was pretty good, and it was great to have something fresh after enduring TAM’s in-flight meal on the way from New York.

After lunch he drove us to Hotel Colonial inside Salvador’s historical district – it is a charming bed and breakfast housed in an 18th Century building. The place itself is very rustic, since the rooms have zero amenities except for air conditioning, free breakfast and WI-FI (actually, breakfast is mandatory to Brazilian hotels). There was a New Orleans-style balcony on the top floor, where there was also a living room with a communal TV that mostly sat unwatched while we were there.

Salvador had been suffering from heavy rains on the weeks before we traveled – I had been following the news about old buildings collapsing and also some hills that came down, killing a number of people. Luckily, the rain had mostly stopped by the time we landed, so the weather was mostly nice for the days we were there.

IMG_1425

Once we settled in we headed straight to Pelourinho, the main historic district of Salvador. It was a Tuesday, which meant that the drummers would be out in the evening – a tradition that has been around for a number of years (I first witnessed that back in 1995, when I was in the city for a gig).  We’d also heard about a free concert by local singer Sarajane (she had a couple of major hits in the 90s and I hear is still active) and we wanted to check it out.

So after resting in our hotel for a few minutes, we headed out to Pelourinho. As we made our way, we stopped at an old church where an Afro-Brazilian Catholic mass was being held. The music was familiar, but the rhythms were very percussive. After reaching the top of the hill, we stopped at an outdoor food stand to buy a couple of Acarajes – a typical delicacy made with a “bun” made from fried mashed beans and then filled with crushed red peppers,  shrimp, pureed okra and vatapá, a gravy-like cream made from shrimp. I find it really delicious, but Renata was not too crazy about it. She says it was a bit too oily for her taste, and also the mix of flavors is a bit too much for her.

We also discovered a little hole in the wall restaurant in the area called “Cravinho” that specializes in an alcoholic mix of the same name that includes cloves, honey, cachaça and spices. We basically just had a beer and walked more, stopping at a nearby restaurant where Renata had crab meat served in a ceramic shell. They brought some pepper sauce on the side, and it was among the hottest I’ve ever tasted – it had some mustard in the mix, and it just added flavor at first but then the burn came much later, staying with you even after a few sips of beer.

And then the drums came.

They seemed almost like fireworks at first, but then I realized it was actually musicians. We followed the sound and found a group of about 25 young drummers – snares, bass, tom-toms all playing in sync under the direction of a black man of about fifty years of age. At first they just stayed at a street corner, and it was really loud. Some of the members went around the crowd selling CDs and collecting donations, and at a certain point they began walking and playing towards Pelourinho’s main street in front of the Jorge Amado foundation (more about that one later).  There they stayed as the crowd gyrated and jumped with the rich African rhythms.  There was another group there already, so the sounds mingled until the group turned around and went back up the street with quite a few following them.

We then went to the Santa Thereza Square, where the Sarajane concert was scheduled to begin sometime before 7 PM. It was about 9:30 and the band was still working on the sound check, so we waited for a while. The band began to play and we enjoyed for about 40 minutes, but we were just too tired after a 13-hour plane ride to stay up until the cows came home.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | May 18, 2015

At 9th Avenue International Food Festival/New York City


By

Ernest Barteldes

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The annual 9th Avenue International Food Festival has become our unofficial kick-off to summer events, and it is something I look forward to every year – larger and more diverse than most street fairs that occur throughout New York City, it features various local restaurants serving food and beverages outdoors for quite affordable prices – for instance, one Thai location was selling Singha beer for just $ 3, while Brazilian eatery Rice and Beans had finger food for as little as $ 2.

Renata and I started from the beginning on W 42nd street (we passed by B.B. King’s Club and saw the wreath and flowers set up there as a memorial to the late blues legend, who had passed on earlier that week), and started out at Thai food stand, where we bought vegetarian spring rolls and chicken satay, and then we made our way to another Thai location where we got a drink to wash down the food.

Crawfish at Delta Grill

Crawfish at Delta Grill

Along the way there are several other vendors selling everything from insulting T-shirts, pashminas, makeup and other accessories.  Well-known venues like Ruby’s have specials throughout the day, and another has a whole pig being roasted for sandwiches.  We didn’t stop there, and made our way up the avenue where we met with David and his wife Martha (loyal readers will remember them from my blog about our visit to Jamaica in 2014).

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When at the Festival, I make a point of stopping at Delta Grill to get some alligator sausage, a delicacy that is shipped directly from Louisiana especially for this event (the restaurant serves them at the bar, but the presentation is quite different) –  the meat is deliciously spicy and is served with brown mustard on the side.  David and Martha debated getting some crawfish, but in the end they changed their mind. I thought Renata would get some Polish food, but she didn’t seem interested in it this time around.

Rice and Beans Restaurant

Rice and Beans Restaurant

Our next stop was at Rice and Beans, where we got some pastel (fried dumplings) and pao de queijo (cheese bread) and a couple of red sangrias. They had tables there, so we sat for a while as we enjoyed our food and rest our feet a bit.  I also went across the street for a couple of vegetable samosas from Indian vendors as Renata and Martha checked out the makeup stand.  We walked a bit more towards the end of the festival at W 57th Street, where they had some rides for kids.

As usual it was a very nice experience – the weather was almost perfect (unlike two years ago when we were soaked by spring showers) so it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.  At around 4:30 PM we headed back to 8th Avenue and took the train back downtown

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | May 11, 2015

The African Burial Ground National Monument , Lower Manhattan


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by Ernest Barteldes

http://www.nps.gov/afbg/index.htm

Over a decade ago I was walking up Whitehall Street when I saw a group of African-American men in top hats getting ready to take some carriages over to the African Burial Ground on Broadway for a re-burial ceremony. I had heard about the discovery of a forgotten cemetery that was rediscovered during preparations for a new federal building, but the events following 9-11 had obscured that memory. Luckily I had a (film) camera with me and I took a few snapshots of the preparations and made a mental note to visit the monument – but somehow I completely forgot about it and even though I had walked or ridden my bike next to the location countless times, I had never actually made a stop there.

As I walked into the visitor center at 290 Broadway, I had to go through airport-like security (including the removal of shoes and belt) and began my visit with a 20-minute video presentation that gave viewers a general background of the site and the efforts to preserve the site for future generations and the compromise to carry on with the construction of a new federal building with a section to remember the dead buried there with the respect they deserve.

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The rest of the exhibit showed a brief history of slavery in America, including its roots in the African continent, where North Africans would kidnap and capture citizens of other regions and sell them to Europeans, the history of the beginning and end of the practice in New York and of course a re-creation of a funeral for a man and a child felled by disease. Around the exhibit it is mentioned (with 3-D effect)  that most of the funerals were done under strict regulations imposed by slave-owners – services were conducted at twilight but before dusk and no more than 12 Africans could be present because whites feared Africans congregating in large numbers.

There were also video presentations about the history of the location and a place where visitors could record their own impressions for posterity. I sat and recorded a brief message of my own apologizing for not having been there before.

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On the outside around the corner stands the actual granite monument, where a water fountain flows around the markings of some of the graves describing the bodies discovered there. The inscription reads “For all those who were lost, For all those who were stolen, For all those who were left behind,  For all those who are not forgotten.”  A staircase inside the monument representing the “door to no return” that Western Africans were forced through into their path to slavery  leads to four large grass-covered mounds where the reinterred remains were laid to rest after being removed for study upon discovery.

It is hard to describe my feelings about being there. Inside the visitors’ center I chatted with several folks who had come from far away to see it with their own eyes. I spoke with an African-American woman from Upstate New York who told me it was an awesome experience to see this, because she is aware that her roots come from somewhere around that very site. I was glad to be there but also felt grieved that so many buried on that site (plus countless bodies lost under landfill and construction) ended their lives with so much pain and suffering – the thought was just unbearable.

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