17 June 2013

We'll Always Have Paris

We had emptied the refrigerator, packed our bags, hugged all our friends, said our good-byes. I had announced to my blog readers that I was taking a hiatus. We were more than ready to get on the plane to Paris, grab a car and drive south in the direction of Provence. You see, before we’d ever met each other, Mark and I had separately had intense relationships with France. I had spent years helping defend France’s honor against Amoco in the legal aftermath of the AMOCO CADIZ oil spill disaster. Mark worked in Paris for a French publisher. We were determined to see if France was still France, and if there was anything for us there anymore.

Then the French air traffic controllers went on strike to protest EU plans to create a single, unified European air space. Our Tuesday late evening flight was canceled, but, given the option between full refund and rescheduling for Sunday, we took Sunday. Actually, we got off easy. We had not been on our way to a congress or a seminar that was not going to wait for us. We were not on our way to a wedding or a funeral that was also not going to wait for us. We were not stuck in a city we barely knew with nothing but the dirty clothes accumulated in the course of a lengthy trip and no prospects except to mark time for days in a hotel that the airline might pay for and then again might not. We were comfortably at home. We spent a few hours rearranging car rentals and hotel reservations. (Thank goodness for the Internet . . . how did we ever manage before?) But then the clock started ticking more sluggishly than usual. Nothing on the calendar. Nothing on the agenda.

Françoise Forton and Aloísio de Abreu
But again we were lucky. Wednesday, the day after we were to leave, was Santo Antônio, the Dia dos Namorados, the Brazilian equivalent of the American St. Valentine’s Day, and Búzios’s tourism department had organized a first-time-ever four-day series of events called (most unfortunately) Búzios Love. Thursday’s schedule promised a show that has been playing in Rio for eight months called Nós Sempre Teremos París (you got it: We’ll Always Have Paris). Was someone telling us something? What an incredible thing to pop up in Búzios, just when we were supposed to be in the Lubéron!

"We'll always have Paris . . ."
The show, a typical boy-meets/loses/finds-girl musical, was actually much more than that. It was the story of a Brazilian Boy who breaks away from his tour group to go sit in a café in Montparnasse on his last night in Paris. At the next table is a Brazilian Girl who is spending her last night in Paris as well. Their eyes meet, they recognize that they’re both Brazilians in love with Paris, and in a flash they fall in love with each other. Paris will do that to you. But they each go their separate ways until twenty years later, when . . . well, you can write the rest. The story unfolded through the lyrics of all the great French classic songs, from Jean Sablon to Charles Trenet to Edith Piaf to Charles Aznavour to Yves Montand — all those songs I learned by heart when I was a kid, because back then I wanted like crazy to be French myself. Here in Búzios we were being reminded of the universal nostalgia for France. We were completely charmed. We sang along, we laughed, we choked up. So did everyone else. It was one of those magical evenings that don’t come around that often anymore, and it reminded us of what we love about France, and what we love about Brazil. Rick and Ilsa might think that they’ll always have Paris, but the truth is that we all will and we all do. And with any luck, Mark and I should be in la douce France as you read this . . . so now I’m really going on a hiatus. À bientôt!

10 June 2013

The Right Side of Manguinhos Beach

Usually when Mark and I walk on "our" beach of Manguinhos, we turn left towards the commerce and the restaurants. It just seems more natural to head in that direction, and it’s an efficient and ecological way to get our shopping done. We rarely turn right, since, well, there’s no there there. And in order to walk to the right at all, you need an extreme low tide. But if we do manage to make the effort, and make the right turn, we are abundantly rewarded. The right side of Manguinhos Beach is exactly what many people yearn for in a beach: empty, quiet, remote, teeming with unusual vegetation, and even a little spooky.

               Lots of empty expanse.

Then all of a sudden, there’s a small, discrete mangrove right smack dab in the middle of nothing.

Most Búzios beaches are lined with huge mansions. These houses are more modest, if not totally abandoned. They do have a certain charm, though.

 No sense calling this meeting to order . . .

I never had the honor of meeting this surprising and surprised visitor to Manguinhos Beach. But ever since he was spotted wandering down our beach, and photographed by a courageous person for the local paper, I keep my eyes wide open!


                            ***NOTE TO READERS***
I’m taking a little hiatus for a few weeks. See you all around mid-July!

03 June 2013

Batata Baroa

the divine batata baroa
If I were a complainer I could easily complain about not being able to find a real thick-skinned Idaho baking potato here in Brazil. Sometimes a person wants comfort food, and a baked stuffed potato on a chilly, windy night fits the bill. So when the mood strikes, we have to substitute what’s called batata inglesa (English potato), which is close, but no cigar. And if I were a complainer I could also complain about not being able to find real honest-to-goodness sweet potatoes, or yams. Oh, there is something called batata doce here, and that does literally mean sweet potato, but I’ve learned not to be fooled by the translation. Batata doce isn’t even a distant cousin to an American sweet potato, and it makes a lousy sweet potato pie. But I’m not a complainer. I have happily foresworn Idahos and given up yams because Brazil has something else, something so special, so delicious, so different, that a person just swoons when the aroma starts wafting from the kitchen. Brazil has batata baroa.

Batata baroa [ba-TA-ta ba-ROW-a] came rolling down the Andes, originally known by its Quechuan language name of arracacha, and took root all around South America under as many different names as there are ways to prepare it. It’s called Creole celery in Venezuela and Ecuador, Peruvian parsnip in Peru, and mandioquinha or batata baroa in Brazil. It’s sometimes referred to as "white carrot" in English, and pomme-de-terre céleri in French. But whatever it’s called, it’s got an extraordinary and distinct flavor. My first taste came many years ago via a spoonful of batata baroa soup on a cold, rainy night. I nearly fell off my chair. Wikipedia describes the flavor as "a delicate blend of celery, cabbage and roast chestnuts." I don’t think that does it justice, though it does hint at the nuttiness. To me it’s elegant, it’s subtle, it’s to die for.

You can roast batata baroa, or boil it, mash it or purée it. You can reduce it to a flour. You can make dumplings, gnocchi, soup, pastries, biscuits. You can make batata baroa chips. You could probably make a batata baroa knish, because anything you can do with a potato, you can do with a batata baroa. Here are our preferred preparations:

batata baroa soup, with leek and bacon

batata baroa gnocchi, with gorgonzola sauce

***QUESTION TO READERS*** As best I can tell, batata baroa is unavailable in the States. If I’m wrong, please let me know?