Friday, December 15, 2017

99 Brasilia 02679: BRAZNAV Major Equipment Expenditures*

*Note:  Thought this cable was unclassified on sending, because it touched DOD/USN equities, the FOIA office needed to check with other agencies before releasing, thus a delay in passing to me.  This cable would fit right after

Thursday, December 7, 2017

November 1999: A Riff on Eating at a Churrascaria

It is a mid-November Saturday afternoon. Given that the sun is directly overhead, it should be rather warm. But with the clouds and rain, the sun hardly gets through and the temperature is cool and the air clean. I offer the following riff on my just completed lunch at Las Pampas. If I wait any longer to put this down, I'll be asleep.

After putting in a few hours in the office, I was feeling a bit hungry. Not so hungry as to be starving, but enough so that with facing many hours to the Marine Ball tonight, I thought I'd try a new churrasco. O churrasco (the barbecue) that I chose was Las Pampas.  (In Spanish since putting it thus might be supposed to have snob appeal. Some heathens still believe that the Argentines do barbecued meat better than the Brazilians. Silly notion because both countries have gauchos (cowboys), lots of cows and the tradition of cutting them up into chunks, roasting the chunks over charcoal fires and then eating great gobs of the resulting carne.  I admit, however, having eaten in Buenos Aires, that Argentine beef may be the best in the world. But I digress.).

The Las Pampas next to the Carrefoure hypermarket in Brasilia, should not, in any case, be expected to be of the highest class, and thus, perhaps, the appeal to Spanish. Indeed, it proved to be very much a place for the povao (pronounced poe- voun -- oun pronounced like in the English word noun and meaning "the common people"). The management noticed right away that I was a person of taste and class (i.e. someone for whom the local currency was no object). All during my subsequent meal they kept asking if I needed anything. With that prompting, I had three very cold beers and lots of meat. A churrasco works this way: you take your plate and go up to the salad bar and fill your plate with all sorts of greens, roasted, raw and pickled vegetables, cold cuts, cheeses and some things -- like quail eggs -- that I wouldn't eat anywhere. (In this case, I bravely plunged into the live greens since the only way to really know a restaurant is to see if you get sick after eating the local greens.) While you are making your way through this portion of the meal, rotating waiters begin bringing to your table various and sundry cuts of beef, pork, chicken, sausage, goat, etc (including -- ugh -- chicken livers). Some people allow the waiter to carve off slices of sizzling flesh at this point. The tourists gobble down the greens in order to feel better about the subsequent feast of cholesterol. (I tried on this occasion to push off the waiters but I tired of giving such offense and accepted a few morsels.) After the salad, you go back to the food bar and load up on the starches that will accompany the meats. These include French fries, fried manioc (yucca), rice, beans and various types of farofa. (Farofa is ground and roasted manioc. One of my favorites.) When you get this back to your table, you order another beer and really start pilling up the meat. Each person gets his/her own pincers to grab the meat as it comes off the spit. It goes onto a small sort of "holding-plate" until you take a piece onto the main plate for actually cutting and eating.

On this particular afternoon, my holding-plate soon became the ground floor for quite a pile. At one point the manager came up to my table with a look of alarm, asking if he could take it away since clearly the meat on the bottom of the pile had been there for a few minutes. This is an important point. The cuts of beef are so loaded with "juices" -- i.e. liquid cholesterol -- that if allowed to cool, they became a bit tough with congealed, well you know. Eaten right off the spit, they are divine.

But none of this was the high point of the meal. That was rather the ambiance, starting with the music. This was provided by a one-man orchestra who also sang. The mainstay of his repertoire were what I remember as my very favorite music to "slow-dance" with girls during my early high school days. He sang in English too. However incongruous this may seem, it seemed to help my appetite. His range went from a deep bass Louie Armstrong -- doing "Moon River" -- to the falsetto of Maurice Gibbs (of the BeeGees). My favorite --though I almost choked to death with uncontrollable laughter -- was a Beatles melody. Needless to say that this tremendous range came as the result of a total lack of skill and shame. But it was fun.

During the lull in the band, I looked for other diversions. There was the guy who left with his wife and looked normal from the waste down but otherwise like some mad builder and added a White House full of extensions to the upper torso. He caused quite a stir in his wake as even the Brazilians -- normally very polite -- guffawed with mirth after he had passed through. Then the three guys next to me, obviously from a local TV crew from the size of the video camera they had with them, paid the check and left. Although they had brought the camera in with them to safe guard it from being stolen from their vehicle, they had had such a good time that they just left it in its chair. The waiter had to chase them to bring this to their attention.

I eventually noticed that there were mirrors placed along the ceiling in such a way that you could see reflected images of the middle of other people's tables, providing a unique view of plates, glasses and the occasional hand with knife and fork. This proved mildly diverting but I decided it was improper to stare at people's dining behavior. Some things should be left private. However, I did notice that most folk's dishes seemed to be missing the big pile of meat that was on mine. Either this cost me my appetite or I had had enough. Lunch soon ended after two coffees and a trip to the dessert bar, where they had a sinful number of gooey, custardy things with coconut in or on them. This is always cause for temptation, but that is another story.