Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | August 28, 2015

The 2015 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival at Tompkins Square Sort-of Review

By Ernest Barteldes

I still remember the first time I attended the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival a decade ago. I was there on assignment for the print edition of All about Jazz (now the New York Jazz Record, which I left years ago because of their editorial choices at the time – I have not followed them since, and have not been in touch with their editors either).  I remember hearing Odean Pope Sax Choir, Japanese pianist Hiromi, Geri Allen and others who at the time were pretty much unknown to mainstream jazz audiences.

I have returned to the festival on an annual basis since even under heavy rain – something that often happens in late August and heard folks that were sometimes on the cusp of finding a bigger audience – examples of those include Jose James, Hiromi and Cindy Blackman. Others I saw are no longer with us, and quite a few disappeared without a trace.

That is actually the beauty of the festival – it’s a mix of well-known and obscure names, each equally sharing the spotlight before a mixed audience that might be there out of curiosity or to hear the headliner. After all, how many chances does the average fan have to hear folks like Jeff “Tain” Watts, the late “Fathead” Newman or Esperanza Spalding for free outside of a pricey jazz club?  I mean, I love places like the Jazz Standard, Dizzy’s or Birdland, but most are not affordable for the average non-tourist Joe – so festivals like these are a chance in a million to appreciate great music at no cost – especially when we are talking about marquee names.

I usually try to make all the Charlie Parker shows every year, but this year was kind of busy and I was not able to catch even a single set. I got to Tompkins Square Park and caught what I assume to have been the second half of Michael Mwengo, who was the opening act that day. He was backed by a tight ensemble, and also featured several guests – including a skilled tap dancer.  I wanted to take notes and all, but given that there was no reserved area for the press  – except maybe for the guy reviewing for the NY Times (there was a photo pit) it was just hard to negotiate a space to stand and try to hear the music while listening to some schmuck sitting on a bench to get out of the way because he couldn’t see the show (I ignored him, and then an Italian tourist asked me to move – in his language!)

The show was fun to watch, and I especially liked the finale when he did an extended take on the classic Broadway tune “I’m Getting Married in The Morning” with lots of improvisation and Gospel-inspired backing vocals from his band members.

After a short break, Joe Lovano took the stage to great applause – he was backed by a quartet that included Esperanza Spalding. He didn’t seem to need much introduction. He stood around and waited for everyone to set up and barely gave time to the presenter to say a few words about him. He played a few notes, the band jumped in and the set went on, proving that Lovano deserves the legend label – he just mesmerized everyone with his music.

I listened for a while and then had to leave – it was time to make dinner and get ready for another week of hard work.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | August 22, 2015

Beach Report: Fire Island Pines + Fire Island Sunrise Cocktail

By Ernest Barteldes

Ever since I learned about Fire Island and visit One of the reasons for that is that I’d read a lot about it, and also heard stories from my late friend Jack Nichols, an early gay activist who wrote a book about the village many years ago – I had never chance to read it since it has gone out of print and the only copy I ever got to see was in his private library in Cocoa Beach.

On our last visits to Fire Island, we basically stuck to Cherry Grove – yes, it’s one of the biggest LGBT destinations there, but it’s also one of the most welcoming and fun – there are three reasonably priced bars and the famed Ice Palace at the Grove Hotel, where pool parties and various other performances occur – but given the hour, only those staying there overnight can really enjoy.

One of the reasons we enjoy Cherry Grove is the fact that the beach is under federal jurisdiction, meaning that you are free from all the hang-ups of either municipal or state laws, so folks can relax and pop open a beer or sunbathe au naturel – and no, you don’t see any raging drunks or inappropriate behavior – just people having a good time under the sun.

On our first trip to Fire Island this year, I suggested checking out The Pines, and finally got agreement from Renata and our friend Basia (*), who frequently joins us there. As usual, we left our Staten Island apartment early and headed to the ferry station in Sayville. Once we got there we had to wait a while since unlike destinations like Kismet or Ocean Beach, ferries don’t run as often (or as late) to either Cherry Grove or The Pines – so there is a lot of waiting around. Thankfully, there is a nice little pub there so you can relax with a cold drink while you wait.

Fire Island Pines is not about convenience if you are looking for that – there is a pizza place (I had a taste of a plain slice, which was delicious) and a small convenience store/café that serves a variety of dishes.  For drinks you can stop by the Blue Whale, which has an outdoor bar and also an indoor dance floor where I saw a lot of guys dancing to remixed hits by the likes of Cher, Queen and even Yoko Ono (she has been rediscovered by the club crowd, who have finally given her the recognition she deserves). There is also the Bistro , a restaurant that is only open after a certain hour – all of them concentrated in the same area close to the ferry dock. If you wish to stay overnight, they also have a hotel.

The beach is, like in other parts of Fire Island, extremely clean. From what I was able to observe, there is a mixture of families, couples and singles of all sexual orientations – I saw fewer people in the nude as compared to Cherry Grove, but since this was a single visit this could have been a slower day. The crowd there is also much younger. Since the beach is on federal land, open container laws (if existent) are not enforced, but I didn’t see anyone overindulging and making fools of themselves.

After we’d had enough of the beach, we explored the village and eventually gravitated to the bar, where service was great and prices were reasonable. The bartender – a young shirtless man from Poland – was very attentive, and the atmosphere was great.

We cannot wait to go back there again.

(*) not her real name.

Recipe: Fire Island Cocktail Recipe

Source: Cocktails of New York

  • White rum 1 shot
  • Vodka 1 shot
  • Orange juice 1 shot
  • Sweet and sour 1 shot
  • Cranberry juice splash
  • Orange slice garnish

In an ice-filled Collins glass, pour the alcohols in first. Add the orange juice and sweet and sour. Add with cranberry juice to create a “sunrise” and garnish with an orange slice

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | August 12, 2015

Beach Report: Sandy Hook, NJ + Cocktail recipe: Jersey Squirrel

Sandy Hook Beach

Sandy Hook Beach

By Ernest Barteldes

A Groupon deal convinced Renata and I to check out Sandy Hook, the New Jersey peninsula south of Staten Island (not to be confused with the Connecticut elementary school of the same name).  We’d been pretty regular on Fire Island for the last few years, but this seemed like a good opportunity of getting to know another place to bake under the sun.

Waves Crashing

Waves Crashing

Sandy Hook stands on the grounds of a former military base (there is still an active Coast Guard base there) and even though it is legally part of New Jersey, the land is owned by the federal government and is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.  That means that no New Jersey municipal or state laws apply there – so you can actually drink on the beach without the fear of getting a ticket.  This is also the reason why Gunnison Beach is the sole clothing-optional beach in the state – all other Jersey Shore municipalities controversially put the kibosh on naturism (or even women going topless ) over a decade ago – something that probably won’t change since the law was unsuccessfully challenged in 2011.

There are two ways to access Sandy Hook – most drive and pay the $15 parking fee, but many take advantage of the seasonal ferry service provided by Seastreak from midtown and lower Manhattan – which is what we did. We woke up early on a Sunday morning and made our way to the Wall Street ferry pier, which is walking distance from Whitehall Terminal. The ride was short  – about 40 minutes  – and quite comfortable . Ferries are spacious and air-conditioned and offer free Wi-Fi service, all of which probably accounts for its steep $ 45 round-trip price.

We had bought a Groupon for a $ 25 round-trip, but we failed to notice that the deal was only for the first ride at 8:25 A.M., so our only choice was to pay the $ 20 difference and grumble as we boarded the ferry for the 11:00 ride.

When we arrived, we took a shuttle bus for the beach of our choice – our pick was Beach D, which has showers and more concessions than the other locations. There was a mixed crowd there, which included large families, couples and some young folk. It is quite a walk on the sand towards the water, but we found a nice spot and settled down. Not far from us a group played Latin music (I think they were streaming from Pandora since there were ads between some of the tunes) but it was at an acceptable volume – nothing like the annoying loud folk on Coney Island.

Concession Area, Sandy Hook Beach D

The beach was quite clean – I just thought it was strange that some sections of the beach were cordoned off, but later I found out that was done to protect an endangered species of birds called the piping plover that reproduce there. There are no bars or restaurants there, but several food trucks supply food for those who are either unprepared or who chose not to bring food.  There are also restrooms and showers, but there are no trash cans anywhere, since the National Park Service maintains a carry-out policy for the area.

When we were there, there were three food trucks servicing beachgoers – I am not sure if they are regulars there or if they change them around throughout the season. Since we brought our own food in coolers, we didn’t have a chance to buy anything the trucks – however, they seemed to be doing a steady business.

On the way back the ride was a bit longer as the ferry dropped off passengers on E35th Street before heading to the Wall Street pier. However, it was nice looking at Brooklyn and Queens. Overall it was a nice experience that I hope to repeat in coming seasons. Sure, Fire Island is still our beach destination of choice, but considering that we saved so much more time getting to Sandy Hook; it will certainly be on our list for summers to come.

Cocktail recipe: New Jersey Squirrel

(source: Absolut)

  • Fill a shaker with ice cubes.
  • Add 1 part almond liqueur.
  • Add 2 parts applejack.
  • Add 1 part lemon juice.
  • Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with lemon.
  • Enjoy

By Ernest Barteldes

The last time I wrote about Staten Island’s South Beach (not to be confused with the tourist attraction in Miami – wouldn’t even be fair to do so) I was less than charitable. I was not complaining about the beach itself back then, but about the jerks who were doing less than their part by leaving tons of trash behind when the beach looked more like a Law and Order crime scene than a beach eight months after the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Back then, most of the boardwalk was cordoned off and there were these artificial dunes made from whatever trash was cleaned out from the seashore, and there was a weird smell around. My past article  called on authorities to crack down on folks who were taking advantage of the chaos caused by the hurricane’s aftermath to clean up after themselves, and also reflected on the sadness I felt about seeing my local beach in such a bad situation.

A couple of years on, I must say that although South Beach has not yet returned to its previous glory, things are much better. Yes, the dunes are still there but I guess they serve the purpose of protecting the boardwalk and areas around it should another storm like that happen again.  On the plus side, it is still pretty much undiscovered country over there – unlike well-known areas with easy access as Coney Island, no one is there with annoying boom boxes (or Bluetooth speakers) or guys selling beer you will later be ticketed for opening.  It is crowded around the lifeguards, but if you go farther out you can have a little private area with little or no disturbance.

When Renata and I go to South Beach I take a small cooler with a few bottles of beer and water, which we enjoy by discreetly pouring into paper cups – I know it’s illegal, but apparently if you keep to yourself, don’t flash the bottles and most importantly don’t act like an idiot they leave you alone (no one has ever asked me about the content of the cups). We never bring food because there are plenty of places around where you can nosh, going from the high-end South Fin Grill to a simple snack bar on the boardwalk. If you want more variety, just walk a few blocks up Sand Lane and you have various other choices, including Polish and Mexican delis that make food to order.

So if you want to check out our little stretch of sand, don’t come with high expectations –  no, the sand is not that white but it’s pretty clean – no one is leaving trash behind or acting like a fool. Just pray the hipsters stay away   – after all, the Staten Island Ferry does not serve craft beers – for now.

Recipe: Staten Island Ferry Cocktail


2 ounces Malibu rum

2 ounces pineapple juice.


Pour rum and pineapple juice in a highball glass filled 2/3 with ice. Stir.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 29, 2015

Weekday Cooking: Simple and Quick without Losing Flavor

By Ernest Barteldes

Renata and I never buy lunch at places near work. Not that there aren’t any good ones around – we both work near Koreatown, so there are a bunch of places to choose from ranging from sandwich joints like Charley’s or Subway to high-end restaurants or Halal stands – the possibilities in the area are pretty limitless if you ask me. But like I have written before, cooking for me is a pleasure, and I also think that it is a completely unnecessary expense if I can make a packed lunch that might just be tastier and more nutritious.

The cost thing is quite obvious – unless you have a slice of pizza, a Happy Meal or some street meat, lunch can be quite costly in the tourist-y neighborhood we work in. I can guarantee that you won’t be able to get a something to eat for less than $6. That might not seem much, but if you calculate that times two between Monday and Friday, that sums up to at least $70 a week for two people. With a fraction of that amount I can make home-cooked meals for the both of us – it just take some effort and organization.

Of course, our daily lunches are not exactly elaborate – I try to keep it as simple as possible, but I am of course concerned with flavor – both Renata and I are big about food that tastes good, so bland flavors are out of the question. Of course, over the years I have accumulated countless recipes and have also adapted many of them to whatever ingredients I might have at home. One of the simplest ones I make is pasta with cauliflower, garlic and anchovies that takes very little time and that is definitely delicious.

I often make that on Friday, since Renata and I observe the Polish tradition of abstaining from meats (except fish) on that day of the week (we also try to have at least one vegetarian day per week – it’s good for us and also for the environment, as I have written before on this space – and it doesn’t have to be something bland at all.

Pasta with cauliflower and anchovies

Serves 2


Three cups of cauliflower cut in florets

One can of anchovy fillets in olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

2-3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Salt and black pepper to taste

Ground parmesan to taste

½ package rotini or other cut pasta

Olive oil for serving


In a large saucepan bring about a quart of salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and boil until tender. Remove the cauliflower with a slotted spoon and cook pasta using same water until al dente and drain, reserving 1 ½ cups cooking water.  In the meantime, sauté the anchovies with garlic until fish dissolves and garlic is browned. Add cooked cauliflower and basil to anchovy mix and toss.  Add the cauliflower mix to pasta and toss, adding reserved water.  Serve, topped with parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

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


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


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


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. On our 2009 trip to Rio, Renata and I went to a show at a jazz club 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 did not 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 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, instantly killing 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.

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