19 January 2009

Obama Day 0: time for a party!

Today is Inauguration Day in the United States, and apparently record numbers of people will be showing up in Washington D.C. to get a glimpse of the first person of any color other than "cracker", to be elected to the highest political office of the land. Everyone is being warned that the temperatures will be cold enough to turn a red-state Republican blue so therefore, it is best to come naked in support of the Democratic Party. A fluffy scarf, earmuffs, and two pairs of socks are encouraged though.

Down here in the Southern Hemisphere, we have different environmental conditions at this time of year. January equals heat and humidity, so we are more preoccupied with how to soak-up the sweat and keep from passing out from too much sun than with hypothermia. So to celebrate summer, and to honor Mr. Baraka Obama’s entrance into the White House (and the cleaning-out of all the dust mites that have lived there for the past 8 years), I thought a BBQ was in order. I also want to celebrate public water finally returning here to Paraty after 9 days of dry wells and the use of lots of extra deodorant.

In Brasil, a BBQ is called a "churrasco" (shoo-hah-skoh) and like its US equivalent, it involves a lot of grilled meat (steak, chicken wings and fatty sausage called “calabresa”), mayonnaise dishes, side vegetables and beer, though rice is the main starch, not potato chips. BBQ sauce and other spices that cover up the natural flavor of the meat are also not welcome here. Only coarse salt is used to season so that when you bite into a chicken wing you taste chicken, not Emeril’s Kicked Up BAM! B-Q sauce. There is also a curious dry condiment called “farofa” (fah-roh-fah) that is usually spooned on top of everything. It is made by refining the tropical root vegetable mandioca (man-jee-oh-ka), also known as manioc or cassava, into a flour, then pan-frying it with butter or oil, cubes of meat (usually bacon or sausage), spices and salt. It can also be purchased pre-packaged and has the consistency of finely-ground bread crumbs. I personally do not like farofa because although the flavor is reminiscent of kind of Thanksgiving stuffing, the flour absorbs liquid like pre-cooked couscous and makes everything it is added to dryer. I always prefer my food on the juicier side, especially at a BBQ.

Churrascos are typically a Sunday event and a way to get everyone you know together to relax, gossip and gorge. Since my husband works in tourism, Sunday is never a day of rest, so we made an extended lunch out of it at his work instead. There are different types of churrasqueiras (shoo-hah-skair-as), or grilling apparatuses, in which to put a fire, though the one we used was made of clay. Others range from humble metal boxes with legs, to elaborate wall built-ins with chimneys. Charcoal is a very different species of coal here. It is a lump charcoal which means that it still resembles pieces of actual wood instead of being mixed with other by-products and chemicals before being pressed into the perfect little squares called briquettes that are used in the US. In place of highly-toxic lighter fluid, Brasilians use common isopropyl rubbing alcohol to help ignite the fire.

Once the fire gets going, it is just like any BBQ on the Fourth of July; the person in charge of the grill has their own personalized and highly specific methods of grilling yet, everyone else also has an opinion on how the food should be cooked and they are not afraid to express it to the cook. These people also usually tend to be of the male gender. It is as if once the smell of burning wood and meat in an outdoor setting reaches their nostrils, some intrinsic, caveman response kicks in and they suddenly become an authority on cooking, though in their own home they avoid cooking at the stove at all costs and feign ignorance of all things culinary.

NPR published what Mr. President has on his iPod and I thought his Fugees and Nina Simone selections were telling, though my favorite song by Ms. Simone is " My Baby Just Cares for me,” though I think “Do I Move You” is the most appropriate choice for the election of the 44th President of the United States who just happens to be the interracial child of a black African man and a white woman from Kansas. Some miracles DO come to pass!
1. 'Ready or Not' Fugees
2. 'What's Going On' Marvin Gaye
3. 'I'm On Fire' Bruce Springsteen
4. 'Gimme Shelter' Rolling Stones
5. 'Sinnerman' Nina Simone
6. 'Touch the Sky' Kanye West
7. 'You'd Be So Easy to Love' Frank Sinatra
8. 'Think' Aretha Franklin
9. 'City of Blinding Lights' U2
10. 'Yes We Can' Will.i.am

For the first time since I left the United States to travel and see first-hand all that I knew was censored from me in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, I am not embarrassed to be from the USA. Where before I was routinely interrogated on how my country can leave such a stain on the people and places it has dealings with (directly or indirectly) and how Bush was able to be elected TWICE, I now talk to people who are excited to discuss the positive prospects for the US’s future. In Rio de Janeiro, Obama’s face has even become a popular theme for Carnaval (kah-nah-vah–ooh) masks that will be paraded in front of millions of viewers at the February festivities. Read the story here:


Nothing and no one is perfect, but today steps were taken that will hopefully give the world reason to believe in democracy and justice again. A slogan heard along the campaign trail was, "Rosa sat so Martin could walk; Martin walked so Obama could run; Obama is running so our children can fly." Best of luck Barack Hussein Obama II and happy grilling!


  1. Hey girl! This is great stuff! whaddya think! YoMa

  2. I also want to know what you thought about Aretha's hat. Or better yet, the poem at the end. I have a copy of it.

  3. I think that only a diva like Aretha (and I mean a REAL diva who has put in her dues, not the Mariah Carey-type) can pull off such a hat! Which poem are you referring to? Can you post it here?

  4. I thought you might enjoy reading this. I don't know the name of the woman who wrote it, although I'm sure it was said, but when you're with a crowd of junior high kids it's hard to hear. Every inauguration begins with an invocation and the President-elect chooses a composer and a poet who work is used during the ceremony. John Kennedy poet was Robert Frost; Clinton's was Nikki Giovanni. So this is copy I got from the New York Times.

    Praise Song for the Day

    Each day we go about our business,
    Walking past each other,
    Catching each others’ eyes
    or not,
    About to speak
    Or speaking.
    All about us is noise and bramble,
    Thorn and din,
    Each one of our ancestors on our tongues.
    Someone is stitching up a hem,
    Darning a hole in a uniform,
    Patching a tire,
    Repairing the things in need of repair.

    Someone is trying to make music somewhere
    With a pair of wooden spoons
    On an oil drum
    With cello,

    A woman and her son
    Wait for a bus.

    A farmer considers the changing sky;
    A teacher says,
    “Take out your pencils.

    We encounter each other in words,
    Words spiny or smooth,
    Whispered or declaimed;
    Words to consider,

    We cross dirt roads and highways
    That mark the will of someone
    And then others who said,
    “I need to see what’s on the other side;
    I know there’s something better
    Down the road.

    We need to find a place where we are safe;
    We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

    Say it plain,
    That many have died for this day.
    Sing the names of the dead
    Who brought us here,
    Who laid the train tracks
    Raised the bridges
    Picked the cotton and the lettuce,
    Built brick by brick the glittering edifices
    They would then keep clean and work inside of.

    Praise song for the struggle;
    Praise song for the day.
    Praise song for every hand-lettered sign;
    The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

    Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

    Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

    What if the mightiest word is love,
    Love beyond
    Love that casts
    A widening pool of light.
    Love with no need to preempt grievance.

    In today’s sharp sparkle,
    This winter air,
    Anything can be made,
    Any sentence begun.

    On the brink
    On the brim,
    On the cusp—
    Praise song
    For walking forward in that light


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