Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Port of Joy

Getting out of Salvador proved to be far more difficult than expected.  We had a mid-morning flight but we departed early with considerable time, in part because we wanted out of the creamsicle with no working internet.  We took the scenic route out of Salvador, passing along the long coast past crashing waves, then turned up past snow white sand dunes.  We sped through a canopy of Brazilian bamboo and reached the airport with about two hours to spare.  And we needed it.

Turns out that unbeknownst to me, our flight from Salvador through Rio to Porto Alegre had been changed.  Apparently, the Rio to Porto Alegre flight no longer existed and we had been rescheduled to an earlier flight.  Which was news to me.  Which we had long since missed.  Which in turn caused all the remaining flights we had scheduled to be unceremoniously cancelled.  Thankfully, we had Leila from the US Consulate in Rio with us, to help smooth everything out.  With a little persuasion and some hard work from the airlines, we managed to get new connecting flights out.  Wasn't easy because a lot of the flights out of Salvador were full.  But the airline was able to re-route us via Sao Paulo, and we were slated to arrive just 20 minutes later than schedule.  We thanked the attendants with some Hawaiian music cds.

There was one major wrinkle.  Since we are traveling with a lot of music luggage and gear, we generally have about 40 kilos over the allotted weight.  Usually about $200 extra per flight.  Well, apparently TAM charges the weight of the extra luggage based on the price of the flight, and since we had flights that were now booked the day of, our luggage calculations were 3 times the usual.  Yep, $600 for extra luggage.  I fought as best I could but there was nothing I could do, and no way to convince since they had already worked hard to get us back on the flight.

So we had a long day of transit and not much else to report from the trip from Brazil's north to its south.  We arrived to Porto Alegre, and were met by our Consulate contact Cesar.  I had long been interested in Porto Alegre for its role in hosting the World Social Forum, global civil society's answer to the World Economic Forum in Davos.  We headed from the airport into the city, where we checked into the lovely Everest Hotel, which towered high above a hilled passage way below.  Immediately the southern city felt starkly different than the north.  We had left one of Brazil's most African cities for one of its most European.  Beyond the Portuguese, Porto Alegre had been settled by waves of Germans, Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, Lebanese, Japanese and Jews and had a very different feel.  It was also cold.  We are in Brazil in the fall, but you wouldn't have known it in the north.  Suddenly the temperature dropped from about 90 degrees to about 55 degrees.

We headed out for dinner with Cesar to Guacho-style restaurant.  Porto Alegre is very much home to the traditional guacho cultural that spans Southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.  Its guacho culture was very different than the vaquero culture we saw in Goiânia in the center of Brazil.  At the restaurant, we got a brief rundown on guacho culture of Brazil's south.  We saw the different style of baggy pants, and a recreation of the ground fire (fogo de chão) that the guachos used to sit around for dinner and campfire music and storytelling.  Keola and co also got to sample mate, or cabaça  as it is called in Brazil.  Brazilian mate is a bit different than the mate in Argentina and Uruguay.  This mate was ground fine rather than the more woodchip feel with the Argentine variety.  I will stick to the Argentine variety, it was a bit more potent.

Anyway, we feasted on meats grilled on large metal skewers.  Unlike the previous rodizio experience, we passed ourselves much better this time.  The restaurant laid down some amazingly delicious fried polenta sticks, which had a delicious crunch on the outside that melted into soft polenta.  I made it a point of trying each cut of meat once, but not more than that.  I was still stuffed but not nearly the coma of the previous encounter.  We had a slice of vazio- a more rare cut that oozed juices.  There was a delicious cylindrical cut called maminha (little tits) and well as the standard picanha.  There was a delicious cut of meat wrapped around garlic called matambre (hungerkiller).  The best was entrecot (the brother of filet mignon).  And then there was dessert.  I tried ambrosia- the gods delight of milk, eggs and lime, boiled in sugar water.  Ambrosia has a funny consistency.   It is like a bowl of broken flan, but its flavor is incredible.  The concoction has a taste that is hard to place, but it is absolutely delicious and light.  We also had sagu, which was tapioca boiled in wine.  Yum.

The next morning, I headed up to the roof for a (light) breakfast.  The meal matters not, what was incredible was the view that the 16th floor restaurant offered around the city.

Unfortunately, I was having a rough day dealing with a temperamental AMA group that was heading off on tour and were being divas.  I was able to break away for a little bit to wander through the hilled city, and down to its colonial old center that was bustling with midday energy.  In the afternoon, we did a soundcheck for the evening concert.

The night's concert was being held at the Instituto Cultural Brasileiro Norte Americano (ICBNA).  The theater seated about 150 people, and was nicely full with a very receptive crowd.  Keola and co put on a great show.  Cesar our consulate host played translator, and Keola had a bit of fun messing with him with translations.  At one point, Keola played a song about a bird, and did a caw.  Then he nudged Cesar to translate that, so Cesar followed suit.  The crowd died of laughter.

The whole show was quite good, and there was a real appreciation of the Hawaiian music and culture that was showcased.  I think that the cultural diplomacy projection of Hawaiian music has been tremendously successful because it is so different than the standard picture of American culture.  The best cultural diplomacy is always iconoclastic, forcing audiences to re-imagine their conceptions of culture from the sending country.  Even as an American, Hawaiian music and culture was very foreign to me, so even more so for Brazilians.  The best cultural diplomacy smashes the pre-conceived images and understanding of a country by laterally challenging notions of perception.    

After the show, we were subject to a lil Hawaiian gastrodiplomacy in the form of Lanai- a Hawaiian Taipei Flora Expo.
restaurant in Porto Alegre.  The owner, a Brazilian woman who had spent time in Hawaii, found out that the group was in town, so she invited our party for dinner.  The dinner was delicious, and graciously free.  On a gastrodiplomacy note, I need to write a piece about Hawaiian gastrodiplomacy as an extension of the regional US gastrodiplomacy focus I am pushing.  The distinctness of Hawaiian cuisine is exactly the kind of nuanced projection of American cuisine that the Culinary Diplomacy Initiative should be pursuing.  As I have previously written, Hawaii does a bit of its own cultural diplomacy, as I found at its pavilion- separate from the US Pavilion, at the

The following day proved equally challenging with the continuing difficulty of a certain AMA group acting like divas prior to their departure on tour.  I was growing increasingly frustrated with having to deal with temperamental musicians rather than being able to focus on the master class taking place between Keola and co with the music students from the Department of Music at the Institute of Fine Arts from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.  My experiences dealing with the other group made me appreciate Keola and co (and the Dellas) all the more, and reminded me how insufferable musicians can be sometimes.

After the music class, we grabbed lunch (and I grabbed a caprinha to ease my pain), and then we headed to the airport for too-short of a stint in a lovely city.  The airport experience was made a bit interesting given a power outage at the airport while we were checking in.  First time I ever had to check-in for a flight in the dark.


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