Friday, May 23, 2008

Museums and Miche

So I headed off to the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, which I found after spending a considerable time lost in an underground pedestrian mall. The museum was somewhat mystifying; nobody took an admission fee from me, or gave me a brochure, or anything. They just sort of shooed me through a doorway and told me to go down five flights of stairs. But as soon as I was through the doorway I was in the museum, so I decided perhaps I'd pay my admission at the end, rather than going on a quest through the museum just to do so. In the end, no admissions desk materialized at the bottom of the museum either; rather, they informed me that I had reached the end of the museum, and now had to go back the same way to get out. So I did. Ours not to reason why.
It's a really wonderful museum, though, confusion aside. It's not tiny, but not huge either; looking at least cursorily at everything they had on display took me only a couple of hours. They have some very famous works on display -- some Chagalls, some Mondrians, one Miro -- but most famously, they have a big room full of Picassos. All of the above were nice enough, but I liked best a few pieces by artists I've never heard of before. One, by Miguel von Dangel titled "El monumento," is a rather disturbing sculpture of a horse that is somewhere between decaying and mummified, with a bloody spike protruding from its chest and barbed wire hooked through its mouth and around its forelegs. It was quite powerful, although I have no idea what it was intended to be a monument to. The other piece I particularly liked was a sculpture of a reclining figure by one Henry Moore; I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he's terribly famous, but I've never heard of him. It was made of bronze, and had a Cubist feeling to it somehow, despite being a sculpture; but a rounded, sort sort of Cubism. Anyhow, with any luck I'll manage to attach photos to this blog once I figure out how to post it. At present I'm too busy enjoying Caracas to bother finding a Wi-Fi spot and spending hours posting all this. You ravening hordes, keening for the next installment of my blog, will simply have to be patient.
After the museum I had a bit of time to kill; I had expected to be there until it closed, but I ran out of things to look at. So I decided to go on a bit of a gastronomic adventure to a restaurant my guidebook recommends, but that is in a somewhat sketchy part of town. After getting some walking route advice from a woman at the museum (who implored me to be careful -- warning six!), I set off. I quickly got off route, and missed a pedestrian bridge I was supposed to have taken, and on one or two blocks I did feel that I was being eyed evaluatively by a few tough-looking young guys; but I got through without mishap to the Plaza la Candelaria, near my intended destination. It's a funny thing in Caracas how quickly the mood of the streets changes; I went from feeling in significant danger, on a side street near the plaza, to feeling completely safe at the Plaza itself, over a distance of just a few dozen paces.
At the Plaza was a fine equestrian statue (the second so far; one is in the Plaza Bolivar right next to my hotel), which I photographed. Nearby were several tables of chess players. Yesterday, in my travels with Carmelo, we walked by an area with several dozen chess tables going at once, but this was smaller. I watched a five-minute blitz game, which was quite enjoyable; an interesting mate threat forced a queen trade which appeared to give black the advantage, but white very skillfully constructed a winning endgame with a passed pawn, and black resigned. Nobody invited me to play, though, so I wandered onwards to the restaurant: La Cocina de Francy. As soon as I left the plaza I was back in dangerous-feeling streets, but after a couple of blocks, there was the restaurant, perched among closed shopfronts, car repair shops, electronics stores, and various unidentifiable buildings.
Coming through the door was, again like being enveloped in peace and safety. Venezuela is certainly a country of contrasts, as Carmelo emphasized. I had a wonderful meal there. My first course was a sort of stew of chicken and rice called "Pelao Guayanes," which reminded me of gumbo but without the dark roux; it was based on a thinner, more buttery broth, and had what seemed to be pesto on top, as well as an unidentifiable red sauce. Extremely tasty. Next I had "Lomito en Salsa de Tamarindo," a steak in a peppery tamarind sauce with fried fritters of plaintains on the side. It was delicious; I expected the sauce to be sweet (tamarind, after all), but it was mostly creamy and peppery, with only a note of tamarind in it, and it went very well with the steak and plantains. I had a Solera, the beer Carmelo had turned me on to yesterday, and decided not to get dessert, so I expected to get the check, but then things took an unexpected turn.
A waiter -- not my waiter -- had been sitting at the bar the whole time, staring balefully at me with what I thought was hostility. But I guess it was just curiosity, for when I had finished my food, he got up and disappeared, and a few minutes later reappeared with a little shot glass of something that he made clear was on the house (perhaps he was pleased that I had ordered and finished two entire entrees). I expected it to be Scotch (did you know that Venezuela drinks more Scotch per capita than any other country besides Scotland? So Carmelo claims!), but instead it was a spicy, sweet liqueur with a licorice taste. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and got my own waiter (a very friendly and patient man who had tackled the menu with me in a spirit of great cooperation) to tell me about it. He said the name of it, but I didn't understand, so I opened my guidebook to have him write, on its page, what it was called, and I showed him the review of his restaurant in the guidebook. At that point, things really got exciting. He rushed off with my guidebook to the back of the restaurant, where a bunch of the staff were gathered, and started waving the guidebook around, and there was much laughter, and then my waiter re-emerged with the owner of the restaurant and his wife in tow. I don't think they thought I was a reviewer for the restaurant -- I'm pretty sure of that, form things said later -- but they were enormously friendly and enthusiastic nevertheless. They wrote down the name of the drink, and told me how to make it:


Start with a bottle of Anis. To the bottle, add several whole sticks of cinnamon; some chunks of lemongrass (the Thai stuff; they showed me a piece); some mint (this is the ingredient I'm least sure of; they called it "Ment" and said it was a tree, but when I said "una planta, verde, una herba" (in my abysmal Spanish that consists of adding "a" to the ends of English words) they agreed with that; and some cloves. Combine all this in your bottle of Anis and set it aside for perhaps 15 days. I asked how much of each ingredient to use, and they waved the question aside as more or less self-evident; just use "a good amount, not too much, not too little".

This surreal episode ended with them bringing me a little plastic water bottle filled almost full (maybe 0.6 liters) with Miche. I will try to make it last until I get back to the States, so some of you will have a chance to taste it, but I can make no promises. :-> So I left them a honking big tip, and staggered back out into the beating sun and wilting humidity and choking traffic fumes.
A brief hike back to my hotel, all this typing, and now supposedly I'm going out for the evening with Carmelo, although it sounds like his girlfriend may be placing unreasonable demands upon his time that may constrain our activities somewhat. We shall see. More later! I really do need to post this stuff soon, this is getting ridiculous. Tomorrow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The food looks great!!!!!