Archive for November, 2010

This Is Just Like Living in Paradise

Friday, November 26th, 2010

WEDNESDAY
I woke up Wednesday in Curacao ready for a flight to Saint Maarten and a battle with Winair, a local-to-St. Barth’s airline there to change my ticket to the day after I’d originally intended to show. It turns out that the best factor working in my favor was timing, as I’d landed so early as to get onto one of their relatively empty early planes. The planes fill up in the late afternoon as the major airlines show up full of passengers ready to head to the neighboring islands of Anguilla, Saba, St. Bartholomew, and St. Eustatius (aka Statia). It cost about $30 to change my flight and the staff was very accommodating. I was fortunate as none of the anxiety of the previous day entered into this venture.

I landed at 12:20 in St. Barths after a particularly interesting flight. The weather was windy that day and while the pilots didn’t appear to be nervous, I was a little. Here are a few views from the plane.

This is not a big plane:

Here is a view of St Barth’s:

Here is a view of the outer harbor:

The descent into St. Barth’s airport involves a trip over a hill before landing. To do this properly, a pilot has to dip the nose of the airplane and dive into the ground a little bit. Some buzzer usually comes on (more or less the YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IF YOU DON’T STOP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING buzzer), and the whole thing is really, totally, awesome.

Here is what it looks like through the cockpit window when the pilots are pointing the nose of the plane over the hill.

Here is a shot from the plane of the hill on the one side of the runway. Runways are usually flat on the side where you land!

My mom and Aaron were waiting for me at the other side of the immigration booth. It was totally a surprise, because I didn’t pay for internet when I had the chance in the St. Maarten airport. They called Winair who told them I was on an arriving flight and when to show up. Totally awesome. We regrouped, went to the house and then to the beach. Here is a view from the villa.

It is one of the highest villas on the hill where we’re staying. You can see many of the originally volcanic hills in the foreground, Lorient beach (where the waves are breaking), some uninhabited islands, and on the horizon below the clouds, St. Maarten. We hit the beach but left after a little while. I was wiped out.

THURSDAY
Thanksgiving morning after pastries we watched a bit of the Thanksgiving Day parade. I freaked out before leaving because I saw Takeshi Murakami and his two floats. However because he doesn’t advertise, they skipped over him before Aaron could see. It was incredible.

I went to Lorient beach for a few hours. Here’s the beach. You can see the end of the beach in the foreground, an uninhabited offshore island in the middle ground and between them, just a peek of St. Maarten:

To the other side you can see different villas dotting the landscape. The weren’t many people there. The weather was perfect. I got a bit of a tan. When I was leaving, I saw local lobster fishermen paddling a set of traps on their dinghy to get to a fishing boat. It looked like it was a giant pain in the ass to get over the surf with the traps.

Afterward we picked up Thanksgiving catering from Maya’s To Go, the take-out arm of a legendary restaurant here. On the way to picking up the food, we met a friend:

I really approved of the on-deck location of this unexpected Thanksgiving rendezvous:

This was the result: Mache salad with goat cheese, toasted pistachios and beets; snow peas; mashed potatoes and gravy; stuffing with apples; roast turkey (dark meat mostly for me); fennel with mandarin oranges and kalamata olives; cranberry sauce; bread; and of course beaujolais nouveau.

Holy hell this was delicious. There are enough Americans coming to the island during Thanksgiving that catering Thanksgiving turns out to be good business.

Here is a shot of my mom and Aaron on the deck of the villa. I simply couldn’t put them into a decent space to get the sun on them. They were happy anyway.

Thursday night we took care of some of my laundry and headed into St. Jean to do a bit of shopping. Then we returned home, watching football and ate leftovers. My chevre, butter, ham, turkey, cranberry, and mustard on baguette sandwich was perfectly American. The French ingredients made it excellent.

FRIDAY
I got up a bit late, and after pastries, mailed a box of books I’d accumulated in Venezuela to the US. I thought about doing this there but I never really gave myself the time to do it. This turned out to take a couple of hours because we had to find a place on the island that had tape. Shipping was expensive, but the overweight fees associated with moving the stuff from place to place had begun to mount, so I knew it was necessary. The postal service guy was super helpful and he said “I can’t handle that Americans get the impression that we’re all unhappy, so I want you to have a good experience with this.” All I could do was thank him.

Afterward we went to the beach. Here is a shot from the car of the outer bay and shipyard of Gustavia, the big town here:

One of the beaches we visited is called Gouverneur’s Beach, and for a while the area was owned by a Rockefeller. Here is a view of the beach area and the compound there, now owned by a retired tech billionaire. Everything in the foreground is a wooded compound. In front of that is the beach:

Here is a view of the beach. It was jam-packed:

Here are goats we found on the hill by one of the beach. Sorry the photo sucks:

Afterward we had a burger. It kicked ass to have a regular burger and from a location in St. Jean that I remembered distinctly from my other visit here:

Came loaded with sauces (good mustard, A+) and with bacon. Kicked Ass.

When we returned we found a friend who was making his way around the driveway of the villa:

Seriously the biggest box turtle I’ve ever seen.

We hit Gustavia for a little while as I shopped for a Christmas gift for Jess. I found one. This place is fancy. Then at the Hideway, which advertises “corked wine, bad beer, and a great view of the car park” I had an excellent dinner of Entrecote Frites, a mojito, and a plate of profiteroles with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I was sated.

Afterward I spent the evening with the folks and eventually moved outside to internerd in paradise. Here is a dusk view of the balcony. The night one doesn’t turn out so good with the exposure on my point and shoot:

That’s St. Maarten in the far distance, but if you follow the coastline to the right you can see two big double light groupings on Anguilla.

As I have been writing this, there have been goats that live on the hill behind the house who’ve descended onto the property and begun to eat the landlord’s garden. He hates this. I love it, because it’s incredible to see wild goats. They’re scared out of their mind of us as we’ve been playing a game of cat and mouse trying to catch a glimpse of them all night. They’ve been braying to each other and every once in a while that gives us a good bead on where to look for them. I’ve been shining the computer monitor in their direction to illuminate the area and see the space. Mixed results.

Here is what the moon looked like the other night:

Tomorrow (Saturday) I leave here and head for Brasilia for a little under three weeks of interviews and snowballing. I really look forward to it, but if it’s a little obvious that I’m going to be bummed to leave here, I’ll try not to show my hosts. This has been such a truly generous and wholly welcome three days of distraction. I love it here and hope that next time fewer than four years separates my visits!

International Travel Fail, or Porque Estoy Burro

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

I missed my flight out of town and showed up a day late to the Simon Bolivar International Airport at Maiquetia. Thank goodness my cab driver didn’t have a 50 Bs. F on him to make change for my 150 Bs. F trip. I wouldn’t want him to have suffered for getting up so early.

As it turns out my flight out of town (my ticket anyway) was for Monday. There was some miscommunication between me and the travel agent, and I never confirmed that the dates were the ones I needed. I showed up at 5am at the airport today to make my flight.

I became really confused because a flight of the same number leaves Caracas at noon on Tuesday. However, I waited seven hours and paid an extra $50 to make it onto the Tuesday flight. Because the flight from Curacao to St. Maarten (a stop on the way to St Barth, where I’m going) leaves at 9am every day. So I flew here and am waiting in a Dutch paradise for my flight to another Dutch paradise.

It has taken just shy of a couple hundred dollars and an overnight stay in Curacao to fix this problem, but it’s almost corrected. Believe it or not, this is what I thought I’d have to do to get to St Barth’s before I discovered this mythical flight I should have boarded.

Here is why they call it Blue Curacao:

Here is the oil refinery:

I landed here.

I headed through immigration. They said, “don’t you have a place to stay?”

I said “no, this was an emergency. I will find one as soon as you let me through. I couldn’t call before I left.”

They said “you’re not allowed to do that here, but we’ll let you slide,” and I said, “Believe me i don’t want to sleep in the street.”

Look at all these people who have hotels. Good for them.

Anyway I ended up at a Hilton because I liked the pictures of the waterfront, and I was really worried about a non-chain not taking a reservation I made with the free airport wi-fi minutes before arriving in a taxi.

Here in Curacao I don’t think the sand beaches are natural, but i wanted to go to one, so I did, and that is why I’m staying here.

There is also a restored fort on the property:

I asked the front desk what kind of food they thought was good and cheap, and here, they asked: “do you want something that is expensive and good or do you want something of lower quality that is cheap”

There isn’t cheap and good on this island?

So I walked on the beach/ rocks past the Hilton, then past the other Hilton, found this and chilled out a bit:

Then went past the Marriott, both very fancy places!

I was kind of walking aimlessly, until I found what used to be a trailer:

It had a grate in what used to be the window. Through the grate was a kitchen (in the van) Two people were hanging out on the other side of the trailer. I walked up to them and said “whatever you are cooking, I will eat.”

The thing about that was, they were talking amongst themselves in some sort of Dutch-Spanish combo language I later found out is called Papamientu. I had no idea how I was going to get across to them that I wanted whatever came out of that former van. I tried Spanish. That didn’t work.

I tried English. We agreed on the word “food.”

I had $6 on me (I had to count to make sure I could cover this), and they only wanted $5. Then they told me they’d give me chicken saté and batatas. While I waited, I was invited to take a seat. I photographed some friends who thought I’d feed them, and the inside of the van.

I followed rules #1 and #2 to great success. All the sauces they offered made their way to the plate. In addition to the fry toppings, there was a delicious peanut sauce waiting for that well-seasoned chicken. There was also a salad of white onion and tomato covered with lemon pepper.

It was really good. I sat on a public beach under a palm frond-covered picnic table and ate my cheap and good food. Here were the boats that I saw in the Sea:

Here is a shot from the walk back:

I then hung out and watched the sunset:

Dare I complain? It would have been nice to be hanging out with my folks. Here are a few night photos of Willemstad, Curacao:


Here is the other side of the inlet. Crossing the inlet is the Queen Emma Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge that pivots across the inlet when a big boat needs to go to the refinery. The one side of the bridge has an engine with a propeller and it literally pulls the bridge (the bridge is pivoting against the other shoreline) out of the inlet and to shore.

Church:

This reminded me of Leidzeplein in Amsterdam:

The above street/park food above was better than what I had for dinner, but I did get to have a Leffe Brown, and man did it taste good. I left those plantains on the plate.

Real Beer!

So Long, Caracas

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I was too busy visiting with a friend and my host family last night to actually type something up eulogizing the Caracas leg of my trip. Caracas is a city of contradictions. The contrast in income and attention is evident in the last few blog posts. But the contradiction between what I think people tolerate, between frustration with transportation, beer that I have no idea how anybody can like, and issues of political polarization, is how it doesn’t close them off. The people that I met were so open, so willing to share their time. Even if they weren’t ultimately going to be helpful, they weren’t unpleasant about having me around. So many people offered kindness, picked up a lunch, called me back, sat down with me, put up with my bad (but improving) Spanish that what was more apparent than anything was kindness.

Living in Caracas is hard work. Here are a few examples from my experience trying to get around town. I was talking with a good friend about that last night and again this morning with my cabbie. For example the Metro is not only fantastic, but also .50 Bs F (meaning it is 6¢ with the black market exchange rate) for any connection on the thing. Which means that everybody is riding it, trying to avoid the traffic on the surface streets and the autopista. I rode it between stops where I could easily walk because it was so inexpensive. Tons of people use it, some perhaps using it as unnecessarily as I did. The lines are super long to even get on a train. I cannot remember how many times I sweated through my clothes pressed in like sausage in a train or because the a/c was broken in a car. People have been protesting the quality of service and so far the government’s response is summed up in it’s new slogan: tomamos medias. sigue las reglas (we’re taking measures follow the rules) which puts a sizable (and not deserved) onus on the people who are using the service.

I hailed several cabs but only one delivered me to the location where I intended to arrive. And that was because it was the only time I had been to the destination before. No other time was a cabbie able to take the name of a prominent location and neighborhood (or address!) and turn it into me getting there.

The beer is not for me. I was not a fan of Venezuelan beer. I liked Destilo which I had late one night in a bar, but that beer was not widely available. I thought either Destila or Zulia were the best but both were in the yellow beer category.

I’m really not touching the situation of political polarization here but I will say this: it’s on everybody’s mind. People are thinking about the future and what it means for them. And lots of different people have interests in it in many separate ways. And that makes it hard to find common ground.

And these are just some of the things that somebody who shows up for a month has to deal with. I don’t own a car and have to deal with the traffic all the time. I don’t have to deal with any issues related to public services and I didn’t have to deal with herd behavior/ shortages in grocery stores.

There is such a range of things that wound me tight that I can’t imagine what it’s like for somebody to be there all the time. And yet people are not wound so tight – they’re open and giving. Perhaps it’s a way to deal with the stress. I can’t say for sure. It was a truly great experience to behold.

Last night we had arepas at the house. Mercedes cooked 9 arepas to honor the requirement of the night before. A tradition with fans of the Venezuelan baseball league is to “have to” eat/ cook as many arepas as your team put up zeroes on the scoreboard during the game. The night before the Leones put up 9 arepas. They were shut out. So last night we had 9 arepas with a delicious spread:

Pernil, queso maduro, jamon, caraoatas; all the stars of Venezuelan cuisine were there. That thing that looks like Turner’s Iced Tea is Pabellon con Limon, which is an unrefined sugar drink flavored with lime. It’s ridiculously good. Made for some great sandwiches to send me out of town. I truly appreciated it. I wasn’t the only one. This is Salvador.

He’s the son of my host’s niece, who stays there during the week because the commute from a nearby town is impossible given the traffic. This family brought a light to my days that is impossible to bring to words here. Along with a friend who I met while here (who I think it’s best to have remain under the radar), I’ve found it hard to compare the kind of generosity in such a short time to my situation here. I’m indebted to her kindness and I will always think of each of these people when I think of Caracas. I was asked last night what I was going to miss the most, and it’s not the arepas, the baseball, etc. It will be the people. And I’ll be thinking about them a lot. So long, Caracas. For now.

URBAN SPACE IN CARACAS Vol 2

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

URBAN SPACE IN CARACAS Vol 2
Of course not all the urban spaces here in town were so fastidiously planned. However they comprise a different form of incompleteness, as they’re always under development. However, it’s important to recognize that these living conditions involve dignity and those who live there care about their space.

Here is a view of Petare. I visited here multiple times with a friend who worked for the municipal government, which isn’t the same as the city government that runs the middle of town. As Caracas expanded into outlying areas, the municipal governments gained responsibility. They have not been formally incorporated into the city, but there is a coordinating council that attempts to bring the city together. This would be like if Brooklyn was a separate municipal government.

This view is panoramic, though of course, it’s incomplete. I think this is as large as I can get the photos to convey the panorama. As I illustrated with a link to a photo in this post, this neighborhood is vast, and what you’re seeing here is merely a ridge within the neighborhood. All of the hills on this side of town are covered with habitats that look like this:

Here was a view from the other side of the room of the barrio in the foreground and the Avilas in the background:

Here are some of the photos above, but large enough to see in detail.

Nearly all of the terrain is covered by families’ houses:

Here is a window shot of a neighborhood church. I believe somebody said it was built in the 50s, but it doesn’t really correspond to that period of architecture. There was a bit of a party happening in this street on the Saturday when we visited:

Part of feeling that social exclusion is so oppressive is that it’s easy to look around and see that everything around you reflects your social situation:

To the north is the Avilas, to the west, the rest of town.

Here is a rooftop view:

Traditionally family members support each other in the barrio, offering a social safety net for those missed by the government. Part of this support involves putting together and expanding one’s living space when you can, on your own. This involves one’s own masonry skills. These houses are constructed vertically, with rooms on top of one another. The bricks used are not of particularly high quality, and I don’t know if there’s a code/ inspection system here. I have my doubts. Here is some masonry on the upper level patio of a house. This was a third floor patio. At some point it could be filled in and a roof could be added, enlarging the living space upward. It would then be finished on the inside, and the new roof would become the patio.

That said, I’ve been inside some of these places and people care for their spaces. The outside appearance is not the same as inside, where plaster is used to smooth over problems with masonry, floors are tile and the living space can be comfortable. Not every room has windows, but light and bright paint provide feelings of comfortable space. That’s not to say these houses aren’t without their problems. Getting electricity and functioning plumbing have been reasons for community mobilization in the past 10 years, but these houses do not lack these services. Electricity is often bridged from a power line that is run into the neighborhood.

You can see above how the electricity is run from the light that illuminates the stairway between the building.

This is a view of Catia, in another municipality on the other side of what is officially Caracas. This area is in the state of Libertador, and extends in two directions: one containing massive apartment buildings and another that constitutes traditional barrios. I missed an opportunity to get here once, but I was helped by another contact to conduct interviews and learn more about the space in a later vista. Here are views of both sides of town.

This first view is 23 de Enero, which consists of the buildings designed by the modern architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva, who based the designs of these buildings on the ideas of Le Corbusier’s Habitations.

These are very, very large buildings:

Facing the other direction from my rooftop view, I could see Catia. This is also a vast expanse of homes in a densely-packed neighborhood. The dwellings continue on all forms of terrain on this side of town. They are what tops the hills:

These areas are places that people live. They can be frustrated by them, can care about them, but ultimately may be stuck there. Some are well-integrated into the traditional system, but most are not. How governments respond to their needs, look for their support, or whether they ignore them will be the determining factor of domestic politics in this century, anywhere that populations like this are concentrated.

URBAN SPACE IN CARACAS, Vol 1

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

I’ve been trying to think about how to responsibly display some of the photos of the experiences I’ve had in neighborhoods where the less fortunate and socially excluded live here in Caracas. I was talking to a friend the other night, somebody to whom I felt it was important to convey that I’m not a tourist, here only briefly to take advantage of my experience with stark inequality. I was invited to two upper levels of buildings to safely get good pictures of the view from within the barrios of Petare and Catia. These two barrios frame the east and west of Caracas, respectively. A patchwork of wealthier neighborhoods fit within the area in-between, but the level of wealth varies considerably. Some of these neighborhoods contain people who are extremely well-off. Some contain people who aren’t. This post talks about some of the interesting urban spaces that exist here. I will continue tomorrow by discussing the urban spaces that exist on the edges of the city, where informal dwellings illustrate the sharp contrast between levels of income here in town.

Most of the skyscrapers here were built as oil wealth was integrated into the economy, and they correspond with the modern period of architecture. Because of its utilitarian expression and goals of limiting costs, most of the buildings here are neo-brutalist. You can see the texture from the boards that served as a form for the poured concrete and rebar that comprises the exoskeleton of most of the buildings. I have always been fascinated by this architecture, so I find myself looking up while here. Some of my favorite architecture is in Bellas Artes, which has a few developments from the late 1970s that offer very visually interesting uses of space.

TORRE BELLAS ARTES

This is probably my favorite building here. I love the window modules that protrude all around the building. The copper windows punctuate the concrete like keys on a computer keyboard. They’re open because the air condition probably doesn’t work but it’s more or less pleasant here all the time (if a little humid).

PARQUE CENTRAL/ CENTRO SIMON BOLIVAR

via Wikipedia

This massive urbanization complex contains the tallest buildings in South America, and the rest of it was designed and implemented in the late 1960s-70s. This is a view from across the street and back a little bit. The rebar signifies places where other development parts were intended but haven’t been finished. Many government offices are located within. However, there are numerous businesses that operate in the towers. The shorter towers contain apartments and the lowest levels of these are business offices too.

Part of one of the tall towers was destroyed in a fire in 2004, and while it looks nearly complete I haven’t seen the crane on top of the building move once since i was here.

This hallway was so desolate, but look at the concrete and the ceiling. I felt unsafe here because of the lack of people, but I also felt uncomfortable in the space.

Here is a plaza that is on top of the roof of the mall section that combines the ground floors of the buildings:

This space was intended for use but nobody was using it. Again, fairly uncomfortable.

This development is part of Centro Simon Bolivar. It is one side of Avenida Simon Bolívar. The buildings overlook the capitol, the parks, well everything in town, since they’re as tall as the USX tower. The other side is framed by the Palacio de Justicia, which looks like this from the front.

via Wikipedia

I visited a government office in here and was confused by the way the building looks from the side.

When I walked to the office in the building I assumed it was a construction area undergoing demolition. It wasn’t. Turns out the building was initiated in the early 1990s but the north side was never finished. This building is in the capitol area, which I would imagine is prime real estate. I took the steps to the 3rd floor where a perfectly functioning office was located. This experience was surreal.

I wasn’t around and haven’t been able to look into the exact constellation of issues that resulted in some of the parts of this city that have been neglected/ unfinished. All I know is that when I snapped the above picture, some dude eating a hamburger at a street kiosk not far from me glared at me as if to say “What is wrong with you?” I could certainly understand from a pride perspective why he wouldn’t think it’s OK for a gringo to snap a photo like this. Like everything else here, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

A Quick Post

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Hey folks, on my way to a meeting, but I wanted to put up some new experiences. It has been difficult to post at night after running around, mostly because my schedule has been hectic in the runup to departing. Seems like the weekends are easiest to update. But hopefully here is a Friday treat.

Here’s a photo of Plaza Altamira with the clouds and Avilas, at dusk. The Avilas: A Continuing Series (of Beauty)

I went back to the baseball game.

Here is a shot of my friends Mercedes, Demetrio and Jose. Jose helped us get the tickets, which was really awesome. I wanted Mercedes and Demetrio to come because I’ve just been so thankful for their generosity, time, conversation and advice. I hope all of these folks can make their way to Pittsburgh at some point so that I can return the generosity.

Here are the dudes:

While there, I had some Arepas worth photographing.

Here is pulled chicken with Queso Blanco. Plenty of Picante and a little beer never hurt at the baseball game:

Here is Carne Mechada and Queso Amarillo with some ranch-like sauce. They love pulled beef here, and who could possibly blame them?

Each of these were 15 Bs F., which comes to about $2 on the black market. So this ridiculous meal was $4. I didn’t complain.

Oh, had some pizza at a panaderia in a neighborhood near an NGO where I’ve been hanging out. Here is a shot. Ham and Mushrooms. Best pizza I’ve had here. Crust was a little eggy, very good.

Had a Malta too. Maltín is nonalcoholic beer that is sweetened. This is not for me. It is, however marketed to youth by Polar, the biggest beer maker in the country. Candy cigarettes.

Street Food at a Weekend Market

Monday, November 15th, 2010

I had some street food at a market this weekend. It was great, and almost bordered on overwhelming. I finally got the chance to try two traditional dishes that people had been urging me to get to: the hallaca and the cachapa de Carabobo. Where as the last few street food experiences were rapid in nature, these were more slow-foods experiences.

I had a hallaca de chicharron, which was a tamale with pork skin, which was great. Super tender. This was a mini-serving, and appropriately called (in the diminuitive) ahallaquita. The corn masa was delicious, well seasoned and containing a little bit of peppers.

Apologies for the letdown of a photo. I forgot my camera.

My host, her niece and her great nephew led me to the cachapa stand, which had a serious line. Serious lines signify good food, so I was stoked. The cachapa de Carabobo is a product of the state of Carabobo here in Venezuela. Its diffusion over the state is a tribute to the availability of corn here as a staple. It’s a corn pancake, which is a little sweet. It combines ground corn flour and pureed corn kernels. It is fried on a griddle, served with a healthy helping of butter and an overwhelming helping of a sour cheese. Here is a shot of the cachapa, forgive the few bites I already took:

There was so much cheese I couldn’t finish it but I nearly got all the way through the pancake after eating the hallaquita. I had to put it aside. The flavors were great though. I can’t wait to make these when I get home. They had better corn flavor than your traditional johnny cake. They’ve got great potential as a breakfast staple at home. So good with just a little butter!

Comparing Pepitos

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Feeling the high from my pan con carne, I asked a student at a conference I was attending about his favorite food on the Universidad Católica Andres Bello campus. He suggested the Pepito Mixto at a semi-fast food restaurant. Mixto refers to both beef and chicken on the sandwich. This was sauteed on a griddle with peppers and served on baguette. Both of these sandwiches fell into the pepito genre, meat, goodies, soft baguette.

When the worker asked me what I wanted on it, I said “everything,” which resulted in a loaded sandwich.

Here is the pepito. Huge.

Here is a close-up of “everything.” This was not an easy sandwich to eat.

I think the pan con carne was better, because the meat was more tender. Kind of an “addition by subtraction” thing with the flavors that happened to win out. It was partially my fault from ordering everything, but I think the sandwich would have been better with more tender meat. It didn’t stop me from cleaning my plate though. I love the fried onion pieces that are all over sandwiches here.

Street Food, Round 2

Friday, November 12th, 2010

I got some more street food last night. Pan con carne. I loved it. It was tender, well-done beef, heated up quickly and sliced thinly. Looked like sirloin.

20 bolivares fuertes ($2.50 with the black market exchange rate). Served on a soft baguette with lettuce and tomato. I asked the guy who made it what his favorite sauce was. His response – avocado sauce, which I’m allergic to – prompted me to ask for his second favorite sauce. That was some tangy mayo sauce that looked like thousand island.

This thing had all the hallmarks of a Philly steak, hold the cheese. I would have been into eating one of the cheeses available and having it get melty on this thing, but this was still a solid sandwich.

Afterward I washed it down with some chicha, which is rice milk with some condensed milk, spices (nutmeg) and sugar.

It’s really delicious. Tastes like rice pudding in a cup, and is slightly thicker than horchata. It was warm, so there’s an ice cube in it. I’m looking for user-submitted suggestions of what booze should go into this, so fire away.

I WENT TO A BASEBALL GAME

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Sunday night through Tuesday, I spent my free moments preparing for another fellowship application. Glad to have sent it out yesterday morning, I went ahead with the evening’s plans: visiting the Estadio Universitario for a baseball game between the hometown Leones de Caracas and the Cardinales de Lara. I had yet to have an opportunity to go to a game, because my friends and people close to me recommended that I not go to a game by myself for security reasons.

While I watched many a playoff game, baseball really stopped for me during late September when I attended my last Bucco game. I just really adore the live experience. So last night I went with friends I made.


Here is an outside shot of the stadium from a nearby parking lot. The stadium is a modern structure, mostly poured concrete. I think it looks really interesting for a baseball stadium.


José, his daughter and close friends.

We all arrived in a Ford Explorer he borrowed from work. People were sitting on laps in the back seat. These guys were awesome. José loves baseball so we talked about our favorite major leaguers, insight into the players I was seeing, where the nachos were, how the beer system works, ball, strikes, jónruns, carreras, and ponches (strike outs). I got along great with his daughter’s boyfriend who also loves baseball. Their favorite team in the Grandes Ligas is the Yankees, and the Leones are a reasonable analogue because they’ve won the most championships in league history.

Here is a view of the stadium from inside:

Here is a view of Kiss Cam:

Jose Castillo was playing for the Leones. This is him at bat.

He scored from first on a double hit over the right fielder’s head. There are a ton of light poles around the stadium. José explained to me that the players lose a lot of fly balls in the lights. That’s gotta be tough.

Here’s the final, even though I took the photo in the bottom of the ninth.

The Leones lost 9-3. The Cardenales hit five home runs in the game. The wind was blowing out and the air was less humid than it had been. The pitching on both ends left a little to be desired.

FOOD REPORT:
I never found the nachos. I found arepas though, and they were great. I had two: chicken with queso amarillo and carne mechada with queso blanco. Delicious with some salsa picante and a real-sugar Coke.

I’ve also had a bunch of plantain chips. That has been great. I had some covered in cheese powder here. Weird, but good. More food stuff to come.

THE BEER SYSTEM:
Most sections have a beer guy, a guy taking notes and a runner bringing new cases of beer to the team. The beer guy pours and serves, and the runner is working constantly. You order, the note taker keeps track, and you take care of it later. The beer we were drinking is Regional, which is a part of the Empresas Polar company. Tasted like Milwaukee’s Best. I wasn’t specific at one point and ended up with Regional Light. I would have thought it hard to make worse beer than Regional, but apparently not. I do like the Polar brand Solera and Zulia, another brewery, but they’re both pilsners too. People in Venezuela drink the most beer per capita in Latin America, but man what I’d give for something dark to drink right now.