Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Caipirinhas & Caipiranhas

I’ve been working on a cocktail called Grounds for Divorce…

I’ve invented a cocktail that I’d like to share with you. As with all the best discoveries, it started off partly by accident, which was then supplemented by my own innate cocktail genius which I didn’t realise existed. 

The best caipirinhas in Brazil are found in Paraty, and hundreds of cachaças too from all over the country. This is a fact, unless you can find one that looks better than this one… Paraty also has an endless stock of cachaça liquers with jabuticaba, cacao and other fruity Brazilian delights to soften the blow of the rocket fuel, including the Gabriela (cravo & canela, cloves & cinnamon) which actually comes from a novela based around a Jorge Amado book title. The book was based in Ilheus, Bahia, the writer’s home town, but the novela was filmed in Paraty and stayed behind afterwards to influence the most famous cachaça liquer in town, and one that really does the trick on the few cold nights of the year there. The best caipirinha for taste also comes out of Paraty, being the only place where you can find the caiçara version on the menus. This is a mixture of lime and passion fruit, named after the local people who occupied the coastal fishing villages of the Costa Verde, and they complement each other wonderfully. Caipirinhas such as these have been responsible for many a lost night trying to keep footing on the wobbly cobbles of the historic centre in Paraty, which is hard enough sober.

The caiçara caipirinha led to other things. One day at home I made a spicy caiçara fruit juice based on the passion fruit and lime idea, adding some fresh ginger because it is the healthiest thing you can have in a fruit juice, and also some honey instead of sugar (you can have this one for free). It was so well-balanced and such a perfect mixture that it must be the best fruit juice I’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately, I’ve never quite got the balance so well since then, but hey.

So another drunken night in Paraty, Blondie couldn’t even pronounce ‘caipirinha’ properly, and it came out as ‘caipiranha’. Immediately it sounded like something fun, a serendipitous portmanteau of two of the finest things Brazil has, the caipirinha and the legendary piranha fish. So sat around the table we decided that we’d have to each make our own version of the caipiranha. Until now, only one has been invented, and that was mine. I went back to the spicy caiçara fruit juice and thought that being a caipiranha, then my cocktail would need to have sharp teeth.

There is only one way to provide that, which is of course to add pimentinha, fresh chili pepper.

The test run went well, at least for me. The group who tasted the caipiranha actually approved it but couldn’t handle so much pimentinha in a drink. I finished it with numb lips and a throat that didn’t know what to think about the mixture that had just made its way down, but the overall effect was highly memorable and enjoyable, and the invention goes down as a palpable hit in my eyes. Perhaps the best way to use the caipiranha cocktail though is as an excellent end-of-night challenge between friends. Only for those brave enough or drunk enough to tackle it.

I wish boa sorte, the best of Brazilian luck to anybody who wishes to try it. 

Especially for Dorothy. Some kind of Recipe:

The Caipiranha

To make one large one to pass around the group (Brazilian style) or to drink and grudgingly give a small taste to others (my style):

2 Limes

1 large Passion Fruit (they are big in Brazil) or maybe two of the small ones
2 tsp Natural Honey, possibly more to take the edge off the lime and the tang from the passion fruit. Brazilian Caipirinhas are VERY sweet so plenty of honey might be needed to match
A thumb-nail of fresh Ginger
1 fresh medium red chili - for Brazil a Dedo de Moça (Woman's Finger) would be about right, although definitely cut to taste! Green chili perhaps for a milder idea.
Crushed Ice 

First up, I would finely chop or grate the ginger and the same with the stalk-half of the chili. For a stronger bite, chop more chili, for weaker, less.

As with a regular lime caipirinha, you half, quarter and then eighth the limes first and grind them in the pilao, the traditional Brazilian mortar and pestle used to make the cocktail, and which also make good souvenirs/presents. 

This is used to gently crush the juice out of the lime, in order to bring out the juice but not the bitterness of the white lime pith. Adding honey to the mixture, and then the contents of the passion fruit. Another idea for decoration with the large Brazilian passion fruits is to just take the top off, like a boiled egg, scoop out the inside and then use the case as your drink container! The skin has to be thick and without any holes for this to work though. (In Bahia, this is done with cacao cocktails, a most beautiful-looking drink).

I prefer to leave the passion fruit with seeds intact, as I like to chew them and prefer the taste without them being crushed. No blender involved whatsoever, and especially not for the limes. Mixing in the ginger and chili should give you a lovely green-orange colour, peppered (geddit?) with red specks, something like a good Thai sweet chili sauce perhaps.

Add in the chopped ice, stir it all up, and then comes the piece de resistance. The second half of the chili can be sliced a quarter of an inch from the cut and placed on the edge of your glass. Your drink now has a tooth, and you are ready to get bitten by your very own caipiranha! 

Friday, 5 August 2016

The Real Rio Road Race

It isn’t often that you can say that the Olympic Road Race competitors have it easier than ordinary cyclists on a hilly 250km course, but Rio is no ordinary city for cycling. The regular roleur has far more obstacles to deal with on their way around the course.

Beginning in Copacabana, you can take it as read that any cycling on roads filled with horrendous traffic and Rio’s notoriously terrible drivers is best done where possible on the beach paths that run alongside them, for your own safety. These provide their own fun too, especially at weekends, with people crossing the path on their way to the beach while texting phones, carrying deckchairs and iceboxes, plus the workers with their supplies for the day. It gets even worse later in the afternoon when all this happens again, but with added drunkenness. Not one of them looks one way, never mind both. The beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, Sao Conrado and Barra da Tijuca all have wonderful scenery to distract you before you reach the Reserva, with the Marapendi Lagoon on one side and the beach on the other, although a couple of Frogger crossings of the highway are necessary.

Passing through the time-trial start-line in Recreio, you start the rolling Grumari Circuit. Here, the ‘cycle-path’ is a few painted signs on the road, and impatient drivers completely ignoring it as they brush past to save themselves valuable seconds on the journey. There are regular road signs too, the old ones full of bullet holes were replaced before the World Cup. There was a sign with a bike on it once, but one afternoon of New Year’s Eve, a car coming down the hill managed to leave the road, took down the new sign, and rolled to a stop by the canal, upside down, smashed to pieces and with blood on the inner roof. Happy New Year.

A quick stop at Praia do Secreto, the secret beach hidden in the rocks, is possible here, with stunning views back the way you just came. The next bend brings the beautiful little Prainha into view, a surf beach corralled by mountains covered in Atlantic Rainforest. Here you can spot the scarlet Brazilian tanager, various monkeys, collared anteaters (even in the surf!), and maybe even a constrictor or two curled up in the trees. A short, sharp climb takes you over to Grumari if the road hasn’t been blocked by falling rocks at this point, as it was a few years ago. You can see rocks propped up with concrete on your right, a common sight in Rio.

Grumari is another wild, surf beach and the descent down there can be taken quickly but the pave that began on the flat was a chain-banger, supplemented by cars reversing out of blind parking spots into your way. You can always slow down, and even stop to take a look at Abricó, the nudest beach hidden amongst the rocks at this end of Grumari. The pavé used to run the whole 3km of the beach but now most has at least some asphalt behind the dunes and tatty beach bars. The sharpest climb of the route begins as you head over to Barra da Guaratiba, up to 18% and a couple of hairpins. Keep an eye and an ear out for the amphibian-like bark of toucans at the top, and also for the beautiful views from a remarkably ugly restaurant. Point de Grumari has fabulous panoramas to distract you from its new warehouse extension, looking out over the mangrove islands and curving beach of Restinga da Marambaia, and over a large section of the Costa Verde, Brazil’s spectacular emerald coast, including Ilha Grande in the distance. The steep descent here has added difficulty with drivers screeching their way up as they occupy most of the corners, although at least the collection of pot-holes connected by short strips have been replaced by almost smooth tarmac.

The flat straight between the mangroves is known as ‘The Anglo-Saxon Section’ but only by me. This is where there are more language and sign-language lessons for careless Brazilian drivers than any other part of the route. The buses racing each other to the next speed-bump on a road with no space regularly try to shave your left handlebar. You can always duck into the Sitio Burle Marx gardens for some respite, or stop to eat oysters and marvel or pity at the clicking crabs suspended from the roadside stalls.

The smooth climb of Grota Funda, the deep cave that is now a road tunnel comes next, a nice roll for a few km. The tunnel was only opened a few years ago, yet trucks are prohibited from using it, so they will always be your company on the way up, and to overtake on the way down. Truck drivers tend to be more cyclist-friendly than any other type of Brazilian driver though, and try to get you plenty of room on the road. Winding back to the beach road, the brand new asphalt makes a massive difference here, although the edges of the tight road still have grates at the old level, which are definitely best avoided. I also once had an open-backed truck full to the brim with shit spilling a little of its load on me down here.

Back on the beach road, and a little detour off it takes you to the urban caiman, the hardest animals in Rio and possibly the world, including Brutus, the toughest of them all and who we feed regularly with meat and fish leftovers. He comes when called now, our very own pet caiman. Look out for his missing back left foot, but do it with your nose closed. The lack of proper sanitation in Rio is very noticeable here in the Corredor Verde, the sarcastically-named (I presume) Green Corridor. The caiman in the oily waters of the Corredor Merde are probably the least dangerous creatures you and your bike will meet all day. Even the cute and harmless capybara of the Reserva can cause trouble if a family of them appears from the brush in the late afternoon, as has happened to me before. Running into the pig-sized daddy would cause more damage than the legendary Tour de France Labrador.

Back through to Sao Conrado and then another climb up the side of Pedra Bonita, with the imposing Pedra da Gavea monolith behind, and colourful hang-gliding wings overhead, you enter the Tijuca Forest National Park. Monkeys running on two legs while carrying arms-full of fruit are a possible hazard here. Around to the Vista Chinesa, then an adrenaline-inducing 4km winding 10% descent through the forest and down to the Botanical Gardens, with traffic to overtake during the week, and hikers to impress or to avoid as the road closes on weekends. As long as nobody taking photos gets in your way, this is definitely the most fun part of the route, and built for a top-tuber for anybody who thinks they could stay ahead for the final flat 12km along the beaches and back to Copacabana.

This being Rio, there are added obstacles for the regular cyclist that the professionals shouldn’t have (although you never know!). Luckily for the professionals, they don’t have to confront the Avenida Niemeyer coast road, with Keanu Reeves seemingly skidding buses around the corners. It was actually safer to cycle on for four months earlier this year, until the first big wave took down the criminally flimsy ‘most beautiful cycle path in the world’ and killed two cyclists.
Getting pushed off your bike and watching a group of local kids walk away with it is about the lightest possible outcome of a bike robbery in Rio, and there has been a spate of them recently. Sometimes in this city, the fastest road bike is not always the best one to ride. A rusty Mary Poppins might get you there in a far safer way.

So if you’ve managed to survive all of this intact, with your bike still rolling, and with most of it still between your legs, you definitely deserve some kind of medal!          

Monday, 7 January 2013

Around Brazil – Porcaria de Janeiro

The period around New Year is the great unifying time in Rio de Janeiro, and the beach is the great unifying place, more than any other in both cases. Everyone is on the beach at midnight as the New Year begins, and everyone is equal on the sand, in the sea and under the fireworks. All types of people are there mixed together, from the rich Zona Sul types of European and Mediterranean ancestry to the poorer people of the Zona Norte and favela communities, often of African and indigenous blood, all colours and all backgrounds are united by one thing – they all leave their litter on the beach.

Copacabana Beach on 1 January apparently has the largest single regular clean-up operation on the planet, and this would be no surprise to anyone who has spent that night, or a Saturday or Sunday afternoon at the beach in Rio. The sand is almost covered in rubbish with New Year champagne bottles embellishing the general waste of crisp and cigarette packets, flyers, beer and soft drink cans, plastic bottles and bags galore. At the end of a regular afternoon you can find all these things and even occasional used tampons and nappies if you are lucky. The justification that it keeps somebody in job, heard regularly from people across the economic spectrum, just doesn’t wash. People get paid to clean the streets and your car, but throwing your litter around in them doesn’t make any more sense there either. Perhaps the poorer people don’t know any better and the richer people don’t take their maids to the beach to clean up after them, I don’t know, but generally if you see people taking their litter away with them from Ipanema Beach, they are almost guaranteed to be gringoes. Not always though, because only today a Brazilian mother and daughter were filling up carrier bags between them with other peoples’ litter, three bags full between them and they’d hardly left their canga.

This is not the behaviour of the average middle class carioca though, the only people you find collecting litter on the beach usually are the cata lata people. It has long been my feeling that those who collect your aluminium cans from the beach are generally the most respectful, courteous people in the whole of Rio. It feels like almost the only ones sometimes. Having watched the wonderful Waste Lands film about the project of artist Vik Muniz in Jardim Gramacho, I had to expand this feeling to include people who collect litter all around the city.  Jardim Gramacho was the city dump on the edge of Guanabara Bay in the Zona Norte, the largest waste facility in South America and possibly even the world until it closed in 2012. No surprise that Porcaria de Janeiro produces so much waste with the uncaring attitude of most residents to leaving litter in beautiful places and recycling none of it. Even the children’s games and the religious ceremonies of Rio leave litter everywhere. Kids leaving broken kites on every street, while the macumba rituals leave the beaches full of candles, bottles, plastic cups and containers full of food for the rats and pigeons to enjoy.

Hopefully, if and when Tiao and Zumbi from Jardim Gramacho enter into the political world of Rio and possibly even the Zumbi Nation of Brazil, they might help to change those attitudes a little. I won’t spoil the film for anybody but it is as uplifting as it should be depressing, and another of Brazil’s Great Films of the past decade or so.

In the meantime, the beaches fill with litter which blows into the sea, the turtles and rays are poisoned by it, the drains block with it and cause all kinds of storm chaos, flooding and maybe even contribute to the landslides that are becoming a regular feature of life around the state. A little more education (especially for the educated cariocas) and lot more recycling facilities would help. Rio is expecting a whole load of visitors from abroad in the coming years, and if the proud cariocas want to show the best side to their city and their state, then the first thing that they should do is to stop visiting those beautiful beaches and leaving them looking so ugly. A small step to help turn Porcaria de Janeiro back into the marvellous city that it once was.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Statues & Self-Worth

Another year, another Jesus statue.

In November 2010, Poland launched their bid for the Guinness Book of Records with their 33m tall Pomnik Chrystusa Króla, Christ the King. Some people claim that it is the tallest statue of Jesus in the world, others say that the 2m high golden crown that takes it over the limit disqualifies it. Either way, the statue is a winner for the town of Swiebodzin and its 21,000 people. Catholic pilgrims now travel from far and wide to look at a plaster and fibreglass statue stuck on top of a mound of rubble. The recent benefits to the local economy may mean that he is not alone for long as an Absurdly Tall Jesus Statue in a Small Eastern European Town.

Now Peru wants to get in on the act. Lima is constructing its own statue of Jesus on Morro Solar just to the end of Lima’s main beaches, south of the city and the touristic districts of Miraflores and Barranco. The colossal statue is a pet project of the colossal ego (according to Wikileaks’ US Diplomatic Cables) of Alan Garcia. The President of Peru has decided to leave a gift to his nation, although he somehow seems to have managed to sneak in a whole statue and put it on a prominent city hill without anybody else in the city knowing, including the mayor.

Limeño Jesus was just about all paid for by the Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht, who were also given the contract to build the trans-continental highway that recently connected the two countries. Before you can say ‘condition-of-the-bid’, the million dollar man will be up and looking out to sea, while Limeños look at him from all over the city.

The statue will bear a close resemblance to our very own Cristo, and at 37m tall will be very nearly 7m taller, not counting plinths of course. This fact alone may prove to some that the statue will be far more of a tribute to The President himself than to the relationship of his country with Brazil, but reports of the statue bearing a very close resemblance to Alan Gabriel Ludwig Garcia Perez are surely way off the mark. At least until he grows a beard perhaps.

So Lima Jesus will be the tallest Jesus statue in the world, taking the crown (ha!) from Cristo de la Concordia of Cochabamba in Bolivia... of course... you all knew that, right? Like quest to build the tallest building in the world, or the US/Soviet Union Arms Race, this Largest Jesus Statue competition seems to have grown legs (another ha!) and could be just as pointless and seemingly endless as the other two.

So many towns and cities around the world want to have their own Jesus statue, and I’ve seen a few in South America of very differing qualities, including the marvellously tacky Cristo Luz in Balneario Camboriu, Santa Catarina.

We all know that none of them can remotely compare to the best though.

The beauty of Cristo Redentor on top of Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro lies not just in the originality, the fine art deco lines of the statue itself, his iconic status or his age. As with property, it is location, location, location. The crazy idea that putting an enormous statue on top of a just about vertical 710m high mountain takes Cristo to places which other Jesus statues can’t reach. He is also far less intrusive up there, especially as a ghostly presence at night with swirling clouds. At Carnaval time he lights up in different colours. There are some tourist attractions in the world that are tourist attractions for a reason, and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio is definitely one of them. The views of the city are incomparable, perhaps only Cape Town has similar views from so high up, right on top of the city. With such a wonderful location, the Rio Jesus should be clearly the Best Jesus Statue in the World, and size does not always matter. Neither does the fact that he disappears from view occasionally in the clouds of Tijuca Forest.

But he still isn’t the best. He isn’t the only one who disappears from view regularly. The Buenos Aires Jesus in the Tierra Santa Park also appears and disappears. I choke with laughter every time I see him rise. Unbeatable.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Understanding Brazil – General Elections

The 2010 elections in Brazil threw up many stories, some of which seemed to pass the foreign news agencies by a little. Dilma Rousseff not quite becoming Brazil’s first female president was the dominant story, while Green Party eco-warrior Marina Silva quietly impressed just about everybody with a dignified campaign and exit. She might make a bigger splash in 2014, especially if she can associate her campaign with a successful Brazil team winning the World Cup on home soil.

Romario and Bebeto can look to reform their 1994 World Cup winning Seleçao strike partnership as Rio de Janeiro Federal Deputy and State Deputy respectively. Neither made rocking baby cradles in celebration as far as anybody knows. Romario was once memorably described as playing football ‘like a lizard slithering across the rocks’. This kind of ability could come in very useful when it comes to a life in Brazilian politics.

The ‘comedy’ angle of the campaign was provided by Tiririca, a kind of unfunny clown who has his own tv shows and has appeared on others. Knowing that being an unfunny clown does not preclude a person from taking part in politics in Brazil, he declared himself for the post of Federal Deputy for Sao Paulo with a winning campaign slogan. ‘What is it that a Federal Deputy does anyway? In truth, I don’t know. But vote for me and I will tell you’. Well over a million people voted for him, comfortably the most votes won by any Federal Deputy in the whole of Brazil, and the second most in Sao Paulo State history. Whether such honesty can find a place in Brasilia remains to be seen, as it appears moves have already been made to keep him out of there. Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, to call him by his real name, has unfortunately already had his honesty called into question. Perhaps his declaration that ‘Worse than it is now, it won’t remain’ rubbed a few people up the wrong way. He also declared his ability to read and write as sufficiently high to enter into Brazilian politics, which requires an exam to be passed, when in reality this son of the Ceara coast in the north-east may have the kind of literacy level to be expected from somebody who began working in a Brazilian circus at the age of eight. Perhaps it is true, or perhaps this voting power has frightened those in his way who have turned to the dark arts in order to keep out this true Clown of the People.

Tiririca can always learn to read and write properly of course, although it may be a little too late for him. Such a lack of literacy earlier in life has been no barrier to Marina Silva’s political career as yet. Another issue that appears not to have been a barrier for our hero is that he was once prosecuted for racism, after one of his ‘comedy’ songs compared a black woman’s hair to a brillo pad and said that she smelt worse than a gamba. Children’s entertainment such as this could be the future of Brazil with him pulling the puppet strings in Brasilia.

That Tiririca was not the biggest clown with shady history involved in the Brazilian General Election of 2010 should not be a big surprise to anybody who has ever lived in Brazil, and taken a passing interest in the politics of the country. Or even watched a novela. The election story that should embarrass Brazil more than that of Tiririca is still that of Fernando Collor.

Fernando Collor de Mellor, 32nd President of the Federal Republic of Brazil from March 1990 to December 1992, puts the achievements of Tiririca and every other Brazilian politician in the shade. After the huge Globo TV Network helped to bring him to power in order to prevent Lula’s first bid being successful, Fernando immediately disappeared on holiday for 6 weeks. His brief period of office was characterised by his right hand man and accountant PC Farias helping to salt away billions of dollars from the federal coffers into their own secret accounts. After being impeached in 1992, he later ran away to Miami and was there when his old friend Farias was murdered in 1996. Once the time to prosecute him had run out, he returned to Brazil, and in 2002 tried once again to become the Governor of Alagoas State. He failed, but in 2006 he was voted in as a Senator instead, after professing support for his erstwhile rival Lula. He failed in his run for Governor in 2010, although he did manage to win almost 400,000 votes, at 30% a reasonable effort in such a small state.

Whether the ongoing amazement that is Collor’s durable political career lasts longer than that of the professional clown remains to be seen, but whatever happens you can be sure that the 2014 election and the preceding World Cup shenanigans will throw up more over-the-top, highly unrealistic stories of greed, power, corruption and lies that will outshine even the most ridiculous novela. Such is the world of Brazilian politics.