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. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Journal Interlude from November 12, 1999

Back in Brasilia [after leave at home]. Had quite a homecoming. Got back to not only an overflowing desk but also a slightly fraying, yet still impending cabinet visit. Arrived Wednesday in time for a somewhat frantic tussle with State Department lawyers over the wording of an agreement for signature during Secretary Cohen’s visit. Lost the tussle but learned an important lesson and some useful info for the future. (We will eventually do the agreement anyway.) On Thursday, I used the holiday to catch up on work and -- after watching two episodes of the final five of my favorite Brazilian telenovela taped for me while I was gone -- went off to meet the Secretary at 12 midnight.

On Friday, still not caught up on my trip induced sleep shortage, went into the office early to do some work and then to the hotel for a 9:45 briefing. Spent the rest of the day with the Secretary: meetings with the Senate President, the President, the new Defense Minister, lunch with the Defense Minister and the senior military commanders, a photo event at the Embassy, a press conference and a late afternoon meeting with the Foreign Minister. In between, rode with the Secretary. Had a chance to chat with him (and in between events, with his attractive wife). A decent man and a Republican. We talked about business but also ourselves. I told him about A... attending St. Albans. He told me he is leaving politics after the Administration leaves office. He later told the Embassy staff that he appreciated the sacrifices we folks abroad make in the public service, like the Charge living without his family.

This weekend is another three-day one thanks to another Brazilian holiday. (I like getting two sets of holidays.) I will be guest of honor at the Marine Ball tomorrow and have my rented tux hanging in the closet. I also hope to sleep.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Journal Interludes: October 16 & 23, 1999

October 16:  I had a good week, just three days but filled enough to seem longer.  Met with two ministers on Friday on a case that I insinuated that some on the U.S. side saw as "creeping expropriation."  Got their attention by sharing a press statement we said we were ready to release.  Had a few beers at the Happy Hour on Friday, something I'd never done before.  And waited all day for an agrément that never came.

October 23:  Had a good week.  Secretary of Transport Rodney Slater visited.  Very nice guy.  I met his FAA N1 Gulf Stream at the airport and later went with his whole delegation to a churrascaria for dinner.  Next day we did briefings in the Embassy, a lunch at a lakeside restaurant specializing in Bahian food and then meetings with the government, topped of by an encounter with President Cardoso.  The Embassy handled the visit beautifully and we ended up at the gem and stone museum/shop on the TV tower.  On Friday, we held a Principal Officers conference where our consul generals and consuls came to Brasilia for the day.  In between, I met with representatives of Mattel Toys -- who want help lowering import barriers in Brazil -- and worked more on a nasty case of re-nationalization in which a state government is trying to remove U.S. shareholders of an energy company.

Meanwhile,  the government here quickly granted agrément for a prospective new U.S. ambassador.  There is a 50/50 chance, I’d guess, at his getting approved this year.  I, of course, would rather not have a boss, but can’t say that.  This job is the best I may ever have.  What the heck.

Thursday, October 19, 2017