“If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?”

Views from the Pousada in Paraty

In response to to today’s Daily Post Writing 101 assignment, which asks, “If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?” I am republishing an old entry about Brazil. Although I would not necessarily like to be there in the midst of World Cup madness, I long to go back and am sure I will someday sooner than later.

My boyfriend and I recently spent almost two weeks traveling along the coast of Brazil, making stops in São Paulo, Paraty and Rio de Janeiro before visiting friends in Ubatuba. Along the way, we enjoyed a small cross section of the scenery, culture, and food of the South American country, including a dinner at

Views from the Pousada
Views from the Pousada in Paraty

Caminho do Ouro, an intimate mãe-and-pai restaurant that served some of the most delicious seafood and risotto I have ever encountered. To our surprise, the only other diner at the restaurant spoke fluent English thanks to his time studying art in Denver in the late 1970s. That diner and former Denverite was Aécio Sarti, a well-known painter who, along with the devoted dog waiting against the glass front door of the restaurant, calls Paraty home. Sarti shared stories about his art, his time in America, and the reason so many of the friendly stray dogs on Paraty’s streets enjoy good health and full bellies. Turns out many of the historic town’s residents feed the strays, and some even nab them for periodic visits to the town’s vets, who treat them at a discount. Sarti’s canine bodyguard had been among those ranks, but proved “too sticky” to shake according to the artist who, of course, named him “Glue.”

Used by permission from the artist

In my time there, I was often confronted by the two faces of Brazil, which seemed to be firmly in the first world in some respects and mired in the third in others. It’s a beautiful and resource-rich country struggling to update its infrastructure in time to take the international stage during the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics and a fast-growing economic engine where the public schools run in two shifts to combat crowding. And, while it has garnered praise from the World Bank “for progress in reducing social and economic inequality,” considering a third of the population of its two largest cities still live in favelas, it clearly has a long way to go on the path toward parity (as do most nations, including my own). But if Brazilians’ appreciation of good food, innovative art, and stray dogs are any indicator, it’s making some significant strides in that direction.  Personally, I can’t wait to visit again to see just how far it’s come.

Fruit is always on the menu in Brazil

Food Prepared With Love Is a Work of Art

A work of art
A work of art –

Check out The Daily’s Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge to share your own interpretation of what constitutes a work of art.

More Things to Be Thankful for in 2013 Continued

My great niece is getting an early start in the kitchen.
My great niece is getting an early start in the kitchen.

It’s been so long since I added an item to this list that I had to reread my own blog to see what I’d already covered. I was surprised to find I had not yet mentioned food.

I love food. It’s a bold statement in a culture in which food is often vilified, but I don’t hesitate to admit it. I love everything about food — eating it, cooking it, thinking about it, even shopping for it. I don’t even mind exercising because it means I can have more of it without feeling guilty. And guilt is something I rarely indulge in too much of, though I can’t say the same about food.

In fact, I once took third place in a coed meatball eating contest by consuming 21 golf ball-sized meat treats in five minutes. My prize?

Contemplating a raw egg appetizer
Contemplating a raw egg appetizer

Two Blues hockey tickets and $100 in steaks. I don’t know whether I should feel proud or embarrassed to admit I didn’t even feel that full after the competition, a fundraiser for a local food bank.

And, though I obviously love food on a personal level, I am particularly thankful for the role it plays family, culture, and friendship. Almost every family has favorite recipes that are passed down, serving as edible heirlooms that help both preserve and create memories at every special occasion or on any typical Tuesday.

So, rather than demonizing food for all the negative things it can do to my waistline and wallet, I choose to make shopping, cooking, and eating a shared everyday celebration for the mind, body, and soul.

Homemade fried rice made after a phone consultation with her 81-year-old mimi and a little hands-on help from mom.
Homemade fried rice made after a phone consultation with her 81-year-old mimi and a little hands-on help from mom.

On Brazil and Dogs as Economic Indicators

Views from the Pousada in Paraty

 

 

 

My boyfriend and I recently spent almost two weeks traveling along the coast of Brazil, making stops in São Paulo, Paraty and Rio de Janeiro before visiting friends in Ubatuba. Along the way, we enjoyed a small cross section of the scenery, culture, and food of the South American country, including a dinner at

Views from the Pousada
Views from the Pousada in Paraty

Caminho do Ouro, an intimate mãe-and-pai restaurant that served some of the most delicious seafood and risotto I have ever encountered. To our surprise, the only other diner at the restaurant spoke fluent English thanks to his time studying art in Denver in the late 1970s. That diner and former Denverite was Aécio Sarti, a well-known painter who, along with the devoted dog waiting against the glass front door of the restaurant, calls Paraty home. Sarti shared stories about his art, his time in America, and the reason so many of the friendly stray dogs on Paraty’s streets enjoy good health and full bellies. Turns out many of the historic town’s residents feed the strays, and some even nab them for periodic visits to the town’s vets, who treat them at a discount. Sarti’s canine bodyguard had been among those ranks, but proved “too sticky” to shake according to the artist who, of course, named him “Glue.”

Used by permission from the artist

In my time there, I was often confronted by the two faces of Brazil, which seemed to be firmly in the first world in some respects and mired in the third in others. It’s a beautiful and resource-rich country struggling to update its infrastructure in time to take the international stage during the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics and a fast-growing economic engine where the public schools run in two shifts to combat crowding. And, while it has garnered praise from the World Bank “for progress in reducing social and economic inequality,” considering a third of the population of its two largest cities still live in favelas, it clearly has a long way to go on the path toward parity (as do most nations, including my own). But if Brazilians’ appreciation of good food, innovative art, and stray dogs are any indicator, it’s making some significant strides in that direction.  Personally, I can’t wait to visit again to see just how far it’s come.

Fruit is always on the menu in Brazil

Southerners – We Can’t Win a War, But We Can Write

This weekend marked Harper Lee’s birth 86 years ago and I could think of no better occasion than the birthday of one of the most celebrated and famously un-prolific Southern writers to return to blogging after a long absence. In fact, it was watching a recent documentary on Lee that brought a question to mind. What makes some Southerners* such darn good writers? Upon reflection, I settled on five factors I believe contribute to the quality of Southern prose.

1. Southerners, almost without exception, have chips on their shoulders.  The reasons for this are many, varied, and depend on the particular Southerner. Some of the most obvious are that the South lost the Civil War and — both literally and figuratively — has never been able to recover. Another is that when people who aren’t familiar with the region think of it, vivid imagery from novels like Deliverance spring to mind. That 1970 book penned by Southerner James Dickey portrayed Georgia mountain folk as “toothless sociopaths” in the words or one New York Times article, and showed that — when necessary — even Southern city boys could become sociopaths, albeit with better teeth. And, though people who are familiar with the South know not every trip to the backwoods ends in peril, we have to admit some do.

2. Southerners are their own antagonists. Historically, we’ve seemed to sabotage our own progress on almost every front. I believe this is true economically, socially and racially. As just one example, we are the group that has lived and worked side-by-side with African Americans for the longest period of our shared histories. Slave owners were perhaps the best known and most prolific “race mixers.” But rather than parlaying that rocky history into solidarity after all these years, the South is still viewed as the region with the thorniest race relations. This self-sabotage is perhaps best illustrated in William Faulkner’s novel Absalom! Absalom! And, for those without the patience for Faulkner’s prose, the sentiment can probably best be expressed by the quote from the Pogo comic strip, notably set in the Okefenokee Swamp: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

3. Southerners are natural storytellers. Not much happens in small Southern towns, so the storytellers among us learn early and often to embellish even the most everyday occurrences. For example, I know one ophiophobic Arkansan who can stretch a story about a backyard run in with a snake into an amusing hour-long yarn. This particular lady is such a storyteller that her own husband didn’t believe her when she called him from a hospital emergency room to report she’d had a heart attack. This factor helps explain why Southerners have written some of the most entertaining memoirs, including The Liar’s Club and All Over But the Shoutin’. It also makes a fair case that these tomes may not exactly qualify as nonfiction by the textbook definition of the term.

4. Southerners can’t eat all the time. The next best thing is thinking — and writing about — food. Food permeates Southern literature like the scent of baking fruitcake and evergreen  runs through every sentence of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” And there’s not much to envy about Maya’ Angelou’s early life except the food. This mouth-watering passage from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is enough to make vegans crave a butter-soaked cathead biscuit with ham:

“On Sunday mornings Momma served a breakfast that was geared to hold us quiet from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. She fried thick pink slabs of home-cured ham and poured grease over sliced red tomatoes. Eggs over easy, fried potatoes and onions, yellow hominy and a crisp perch fried so hard we would pop them in our mouths and chew bones, fins and all. Her cathead biscuits were at least three inches in diameter and two inches thick. The trick to eating catheads was to get the butter on them before they got cold—then they were delicious. When, unluckily, they were allowed to get cool, they tended to a gooeyness, not unlike a wad of tired gum.”

5. Interesting dialects lend themselves to great dialogue. Thanks to mass media, American language is becoming depressingly homogeneous. Readers crave well-crafted exceptions to that rule. Dialogue that effectively reflects the unique ways people speak in a particular part of the world sings with authenticity. I would also argue that dialect-infused dialogue is one of the reasons so many native New Yorkers are great writers, as illustrated by the fact three of the 10 writers on this best-of list are from the South while three called New York City home. Here’s just one of many examples of dialect from To Kill a Mockingbird. Drop me a line if you need a translation.

“Not the same chiffarobe you busted up?’ asked Atticus.
The witness smiled. ‘Naw, suh, another one. Most as tall as the room. So I done what she told me, an’ I was just reachin’ when the next thing I knows she – she’d grabbed me round the legs, grabbed me round th’ legs, Mr. Finch. She scared me so bad I hopped down an’ turned the chair over – that was the only thing, only furniture ‘sturbed in that room, Mr. Finch, when I left it. I swear it ‘fore God.’”

—————

* I do not consider myself one of these great Southern writers, but I did enjoy crafting this post and reading about writing. I have included additional links below:

http://www.ket.org/livingbywords/roots/thesouth.htm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wiley-cash/11-greatest-southern-nove_b_1429546.html#s875021&title=Salvage_the_Bones

http://www.clarke.public.lib.ga.us/pathfinders/southernauthors/swriters.html

http://blog.sfgate.com/richmond/2009/08/30/the-10-best-southern-novels-of-all-time/

The Hunger Games — Supersized

In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen’s idea of a good meal might be a stew of rabbits and the root vegetable that bears her name. A Reaping Day feast could even include a good loaf of bread from the town bakery and a small chunk of her sister’s homemade goat cheese. Fancier fare is reserved for those in the Capitol and, of course, the unlucky tributes chosen to compete in the Games. Indeed, on the train to the Capitol, Katniss’s companions warn her not to eat the rich offerings too quickly since she isn’t conditioned to consume so much fat, salt, and sugar in a single sitting.

If only that were true for most Americans. Maybe then, fans who voted for their favorite Hunger Games– inspired recipes and the judging panel at the San Jose Mercury News that winnowed down their picks wouldn’t have selected rich recipes that represent Reaping Day and the fight-to-the-death spectacle that follows.

The story’s proposed Hunger Games movie day menu of green broth that tastes like springtime, lamb stew with plums and cranberries, and goat cheese and herb bread weighs in at 1,235 calories a serving. Even before factoring in the theater-sized box of Raisinettes, that’s close to the recommended daily intake for a girl  like Katniss. For someone used to hunting, foraging, or going without, eating that feast would surely induce a vomiting episode worthy of its own scene in Supersize Me.

Instead, I’d guess that if the fictional heroine of The Hunger Games could sit down to a meal with Suzanne Collins, the writer who created her, they’d choose something more like this menu and skip the trip to the Capitol  — and its well-appointed lavatories — all together.