Chicken Hearts and St. Anthony’s Party

“Here, try this?” 
“What is it?” 
Little, plump, brown and sort-of grayish, the bite size morsels came to a narrow point on their bottom end.  Six in a line skewered straight through with a wood kebab stick, Cupid like.
“Coracoes de galinha.”
“Chicken hearts?!”
“Yes!  Try one.”
The seasoning was salty.  The organ was chewy.  I swallowed it down.
“Not bad.”
“Have another.”
I took the skewer in my hand, lined my teeth up and slid another chicken heart down the stick and into my mouth.  Gnashed it up a bit and threw it down the gullet.
“I need something to drink.”
Every Sunday in the city of Belo Horizonte , capital of the state of Minas Gerais in central Brazil , a market reputed to be one of the biggest in South America shuts down several city blocks in the central area of the city.  Stalls selling everything imaginable go on and on. 
“Here are some pork rinds.  I bought them for you.”
Greasy fat with a crunchy crust, it was a perfect compliment to my chicken heart breakfast.  I added a sandwich typical of Bahia, the center of Afro Brazil found on the coast north of Rio .  Fried dough sliced open and stuffed with tiny sautéd shrimp, curry sauce, a peppery powder spice and some onions, I was having a foodgasm.
The following evening we were in Salinas , World Capital of Cachaca, in northern Minas.  Cachaca is derived from sugarcane, coming in around 45% alcohol content.  It’s rum’s version of whiskey.  As my wife says, “think rubbing alcohol.”
Lucky for us, the town was celebrating St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost causes/things:  keys, wallets and sanity have been found thanks to Tony’s intervention. 
Behind the cathedral, food, beer and cachaca were being enjoyed in great proportions by the townsfolk.  Chair and tables spread out across the small park, music blaring from the DJ’s rig.  It was a Monday night, and a party was on.
Across Latin America , celebrating saints’ days is a common occurrence.  More likely to occur in the countryside than in the cities these festivals are a welcomed good time by any traveler.  Salinas certainly did not disappoint.
Thanks to our project counterpart’s excellent people skills, we were given backstage access to the festival.  Backstage was the kitchen.  Huge charcoal grills filled with pork, chicken and beef in this corner.  Cauldrons of mandioca, chicken and beef soups over there.  Flat breads being baked on earthen ovens in the center.  Try a little of it all, we nearly did. 
Along the back wall sat three men drinking big bottles of Skol at small table.  Priests like a good time as much as the rest of us, if not in a more subdued manner.
Women blowing whistles while cooking.  Women dancing while cooking.  Horns used at soccer matches droning.  Other noise makers ringing into the night sky.  Small fireworks every now and then.  Loud explosions that we called bombs every other now and then.  People dancing. 
 Out comes the multicolored striped pole some 30 feet long.  The party gets louder.  More fireworks.  Craziness.
A small parade brings the banner of St. Anthony.  Gotta get the banner on top of the pole and stand that thing up.  Louder, even more.
It’s on.  Up goes the pole.
The parade of musicians and revelers breaks off and winds through crowd.  Cheer and beer.  Cachaca and limes.  Food, family and friends.  Samba blasting out the speakers.
Saint Anthony has risen again. 
(The next day was Brazil ’s first game in the World Cup.   St. Anthony’s Party had some of that fervor thrown in.  The festival was electric, as everyone was ready for the game.  And I mean every single Brazilian soul was waiting for that game.)

(written 2 July 2006)

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