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Monday, March 24, 2014

A Chacra and a Pig Roast!

Note: Vegetarians may want to skip this post!

I actually decided, not to add a graphic, front facing, close-up of the finished product only some rear shots but the photographer in me found everything fascinating so I did take some. I am talking about a photo of the cooked, in the ground pig that I recently had the pleasure of eating. Sorry, to you but I am a meat eater!

I once lived in the Hawaiian chain of islands, USA, on the island of Maui and also on the island of Guam in the South Pacific. Those Islanders in both places really knew how to cook and roast a pig. They did it Island style or in an imu. An imu is an earth oven. It's a pit oven, dug into the ground. A fire is built down into it and then is allowed to smolder. It's often lined with leaves (to steam the food) and heated rocks to trap the heat and cook the meat. Sometimes, burlap is used or leaves (edible) in order to wrap the boar or pig up into. Then once the meat is securely wrapped up, the dirt and rocks are shoveled back into the pit to cover the boar. It then bakes at least 8 hours under ground. Boy, is that meat tender and delicious when brought back above ground.

Sometimes, Expats start to miss some of the more flavorful meals that they once enjoyed back home and we get to talking about that at gatherings. I was at an asado (a BBQ, Uruguayan style) and we started to talk about that. I mentioned the boars that were hunted on both islands, cooked underground and how tasty they were.

Jerry aka "Oso"
An expat named Jerry mentioned that he knew how to cook a pig that way and that he should do that at an expat gathering before the summer weather completely went away. Which is exactly what he and another expat named Jim did.

So Jerry put the word out via email and he invited a bunch of expats to spend the evening, eating and listening to music out at his place in the campo or rural pastures.

Jim took over the major task of cooking the pig and also overseeing a separate asado grill of meats and vegetables and Jerry supplied the place, his chacra.

A chacra is a small farm, counted in hectares of land (sometimes a 1/2 a hectare) but always smaller than a hundred hectares. A hectare is 2.4711 acre each.  It can also refer to a country house.

Down a dirt road, in the department of Canelones is Jerry's (aka the "bear" or "Oso" in Spanish) chacra. It is a bachelor's place with all kinds of stuff. It's a little ram-shackled but it's also kind of cool.

It has an old western town like vibe, with chickens and geese running around and yes some cows far off in the distance, grazing on one of his many acres.

It was very picturesque, a perfect place for a gathering of expats that have moved to Uruguay and now call it home.

I try and let, at least, a few expats know that I'm still alive and living here. That way if there is anything important that I as a foreigner might need to know, the expat community will keep me in the loop, information wise. There where a lot of new expats there at the gathering who had moved here that I didn't know. I knew Jim the cook, (for that day) and his wife Mariellen because they live right around the corner from my house in Marindia so I knew them and a few others I remembered from other gatherings were also there.
It was interesting to be able to hear and speak so much English again.

I had bummed a ride with Mariellen and Jim since I didn't know where Jerry lived and many street signs and address numbers are lacking here.    

Right as we entered the property, I saw the pit that Jim had dug earlier that morning. He had come back to Marindia to pick up his wife and me later that evening to go to the Chacra.

There were many expats that had heeded the invitation and were gathering there. One expat brought a truck load of watermelons and cucumbers from his own chacra and was giving them out for free.! The weather had been terribly rainy the whole last week and he didn't want the watermelons to go to waste, I think his name was Larry. So again, thank you Larry, for your delicious watermelons (I took 2!).

Jerry's sister was visiting Uruguay at this time and she played a tiny little bass guitar for the evenings' entertainment. Soon other guitars started to mysteriously appear and Jim brought out his harmonica and the music flowed!

When the time was right and after a full days' cooking in the ground we all gathered together to watch the great unveiling. I thought it was interesting that heated stones had been put into the pigs belly to help it cook internally, prior to the pig's being buried down into the pit. It was well cooked!

The dirt was shoveled away and the pig was brought up to the surface and unwrapped! It was steaming hot and very tender.

Then it had to be lifted onto a board to be carried away to the prep station. Jim handled the de-bonning and serving. I have other close up pictures that I didn't include because I'm trying to be sensitive to you blog readers.

All I can say, is that the meat was tender, moist and appreciated by all who partook of it. It reminded me exactly of the delicious pork meat dinners I had had on the two islands that I had lived on before, Maui and Guam. I only wish I had taken some leftovers home with me because it is now "Fall/Autumn" down here in South America. We have now set our clocks back 1 hour and I don't foresee any more warm summer evenings spent eating a roasted pig and listening to music on a chacra at least until "hopefully" next year.

Meanwhile, I will just have to rub my belly and say "yum" when I remember that night.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Murga and Pizza!

In my last post, I mentioned seeing some Murga groups perform during Carnival time in Uruguay. They perform in groups and will compete with each other in and around Montevideo, often practicing on street corners. There is a juried competition held for the various groups in Montevideo. The winners are published in the newspaper after Mardi Gras. To help them get ready for the juried competition they will often perform on various stages and venues in local towns during this Carnival time.

I can best describe the concept of Murga music by comparing it to the use of Reggae music on the Island of Jamaica.

The wikipedia states that, "Reggae is noted for its tradition of social criticism in its lyrics, although many reggae songs discuss lighter, more personal subjects, such as love and socializing. Some reggae lyrics attempt to raise the political consciousness of the audience, such as by criticizing materialism, or by informing the listener about controversial subjects such as Apartheid." Most people know of Bob Marley's song "I shot the Sheriff but I did not shoot the Deputy". Reggae music has a great familiar beat and style.

The wikipedia states that Murga's Lyrical content is based on a particular theme, chosen by the group, which serves to provide commentary on events in Uruguay or elsewhere over the preceding year. Consequently, murga lends itself well to being used as a form of popular resistance. For example, during the dictatorship in Uruguay in the 1970s, groups like Araca La Cana became known for their left-wing tendencies, subversive commentary and oppositional stance.

I did however, enjoy seeing and hearing some Murga groups present their satire songs/skits.

For those of you that want to know more on the subject of Murga and it's history, I suggest that you do click on this wikipedia link, it's an interesting read.

However, for those of you who probably won't do that, I'll copy a direct quote from the wiki source about the Murga sound; "The singers perform in polyphony using up to five vocal parts. Vocal production tends to be nasal and loud with little variation in volume."
 wikipedia: Click on this Murga link.

If your wondering about the title of this post, "Murga and Pizza" it was used because as I already mentioned, many of the groups will seek out places and venues to perform at. My friends know of a Pizza restaurant that is fairly new, located down in Atlántida. It is a cooperative restaurant opened up by a group of young people. I believe 16 people got to gather to buy and operate this restaurant. It is in a great location right on the rambla, the road that runs by the beach. The name of the restaurant is "Piedra Lisa". They have good (round shaped) pizza, freshly baked for VERY reasonable prices, along with a few other things on the menu.  If you want to go there, you can find this restaurant, on the rambla, after you leave the town of Atlántida but before you come to Las Toscas. You will see a giant metal buoy (now on land) in the parking lot. The restaurant is there.

The restaurant, Piedra Lisa sponsored a Murga competition between 2 groups one night, so I went down to hear and watch them perform and to eat great Pizza!

I snooped around before our dinner arrived and found a group of them practicing out back under a thatched roofed building ( a Quincho).

The group was in costume, there were men, a few women (not usual for traditional Murga) and some young male members teen age.

Each group has a leader who directed them.
At first I was afraid that the show wouldn't come off that well as the restaurant had several power outages. Too many appliances plugged in at once, I guess. We did have some candles on the table so I thought, well maybe they will just sing in the dark but at the last minute and by the time the food arrived, we had light (Llegue a haber luz).
Inside of the restaurant a woman member let me take her picture.

I have made a UTube video of one of the shorter opening songs that the first  groups did. Sorry it is so dark but for some reason the group had a stage light shinning behind them instead of on them and in front of them, illuminating their faces. I fought between being blinded by the light essentially shinning on me and their darkened fronts.

To watch and hear this Murga group,  "Click on this UTube link."

I did understand the theme chosen by one group and it was delightful. It was on childhood, The little "kids" in this case, the full grown performers were visiting grandma's house (La casa de Abuela). The children were expecting some gifts from grandma. I think it was their birthday and of course they were singing about everything they wanted to receive from balls to dolls. Then how disappointing some gifts were like underwear and socks. They sang other songs about getting in trouble and being spanked by their parents and being scared by the boogie man at night. It was fun seeing the grown actors being children and singing about such innocent subjects.

I had a front row seat as our table was right in front of the stage!

The second group wasn't as good vocally as the first group. I think the women in the first group though not usually presented in traditional  Murga somehow added a fuller more complete sound. Then again, me being a women probably makes me a little bit bias.

After eating and watching the show, my dinner companions took me further down the rambla towards Atlántida to show me where the street had washed out. It was a huge gapping hole and drop off. In my last post, I had mentioned how some towns had canceled their local Carnival parades because of the extremely wet, rainy weather we had (quite unusual for this time of the year). Well, when I saw the now missing chunk of road, it really brought home how bad the rain had been.

Further down, several towns away, passed the toll bridge, the town of Solymar had really been inundated with water from these rains. Water came into houses and made mini lakes of the streets.

The good thing about Uruguay is that even when the weather gets bad, suddenly and surprisingly a few super nice days will come along (a sort of reprieve) just when you need it the most. So I am glad to say, all though it has just started raining again tonight I have had a rather great and sunny past week. I got a lot accomplished. I also learned a couple of weeks ago about a great new pizza restaurant and a new genre, the music of the Murga. Murga and pizza a winning combination!