Friday, February 16, 2007

Carnaval: One Sip at a Time…

Leblon Cachaça

Named after one of Rio de Janeiro’s districts, LeBlon Cachaça conveys the spirit of Brazil. With a slogan like “Live, Love, LeBlon,” what else would you expect? This top-notch sugar cane liqueur sambas its way into any celebratory cocktail, especially this time of year!

I like everything about this product. The cachaça itself is superb. The packaging conveys “cool” and “fresh.” And, they have an awesome CD featuring soothing Brazilian beats, super for a party or one-on-one chill-out time. Check out some of the music on their website. I’m not the only one to like it. LeBlon has gotten rave reviews… I strongly encourage you to try it for yourselves!

I’ll jump right in and share some of their drink recipes. I didn’t include the basic Caipirinha (lime juice, cachaça and sugar) but am highlighting some more unusual cocktail ideas. Their website has many more.

If you are interested in experiencing Carnaval vicariously through my trip to Rio, a few years ago, keep reading… (oh, and speaking of LeBlon, if you make it down to Rio, go hang gliding in LeBlon. There is no view of that gorgeous city that beats jumping off a cliff, soaring through the air and landing on the beach. I call it “experiential tourism…”)

Brazilian Rose
2 oz. LeBlon cachaça

3 oz. Guava Juice
Splash Triple Sec

Shake together, with ice. Pour into cocktail glass. Garnish with a rose petal.

Watermelon Smash
1 1/2 oz. LeBlon achaça
1/2 oz. lemoncello
1/2 oz. simple syrup

2 wedges watermelon

Muddle melon and syrup in mixing glass. Add LeBlon and lemoncello, shake and serve in a rocks glass. Garnish with watermelon.


2 oz. LeBlon cachaça
1/2 oz. Fresh lemon juice

1 oz. Tamarind concentrate
10-15 rosemary needles
1 1/2 oz. ginger beer

Muddle rosemary, slightly, releasing some of the oils. Add LeBlon cachaça, lemon juice and tamarind concentrate. Shake and strain into a glass, over ice. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

Do you think that all the major holidays are over after Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve and Valentines Day? Well, you are wrong, wrong wrong! Call it what you willl – Mardi Gras, Carnaval, Carnival, Fat Tuesday… the biggest party of the year is upon us. (The photo on the right depicts the 2007 Carnavale King, Queen and Princesses!)

I got to experience Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, in 2002. It was the most colorful, spirited, memorable spectacle I have seen in my life. A blur of feathers, drumbeats and gyrating flesh is how I’d describe it in a few words. Simply amazing.

At the time, I was visiting a friend, who grew up in Barra, just on the outskirts of Rio. Tropical and lush, the whole area is paradise. And, don’t even get me started on the beaches…

I had always imagined Carnaval to be something like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a parade through the city streets, people throwing beads from floats, interacting with the breast-flashing spectators. In fact, it was not like that, at all.

The Sambadromo is Rio’s special place where the parades happens. It looks like an elongated football arena. Tickets are purchased. Excited crowds pack themselves into the stands. Music blasts, in all directions. Everyone is smiling,
dancing and shouting. The anticipation mounts. Then…

An explosion of energy, below. The star dancer from the first samba school bursts into the arena. Usually, she is tall, beautiful and covered with strategically placed beads, feathers and sequins. The rest of her is tanned, toned and bare. Dancing with fervor, hips moving at the speed of machine gun fire, the clock starts ticking the moment she steps foot into the Sambadromo.

In fact, the carnavale parade is a competition, which lasts three days and nights, in a row. The top samba schools in Rio compete against one another, every year, for top billing. Cariocas (residents of Rio) breathlessly scan the newspapers each morning, searching for the results from the night before. This year’s contestants are: BEIJA-FLOR, ESTÁCIO DE SÁ, GRANDE RIO, IMPERATRIZ LEOPOLDINENSE, IMPÉRIO SERRANO, MANGUEIRA, MOCIDADE, PORTELA, PORTO DA PEDRA, SALGUEIRO, UNIDOS DA TIJUCA, VIRADOURO and VILA ISABEL. The year I went, Beija-Flor won.

Each samba school has its own song, its own colors and its own fans. Think about the passion with which Brazilians follow their favorite soccer teams, apply that to their favorite samba school, and you will start to get an idea of the hysteria packed into these three few days.

From the time the head dancer places her foot inside the Sambadromo, the samba school has one hour and fifteen minutes to make it all the way through, and out the other end. Each minute longer or shorter than that amount of time results in a deduction of points. Behind the head dancer, rows of drummers march in. Boom-ba-boom-boom. After them, an ornate, gaudy, grotesquely exquisite float pulls in, featuring half a dozen smiling, samba-ing showgirls, stirring up the crowds. Behind that, lines of costumed dancers – male and female – some with swirling skirts, some with large masks, all with a lot of spirit.

Almost anyone can be one of these dancers, if they are willing to pay their way in. Sometimes, supporters of the samba school are invited to walk in the parade. Sometimes, tourists fork over the bucks to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Behind those people, come more floats, more samba dancers, more drums. As each school passes, its fans sing their ‘fight’ song. This You Tube clip will give you an idea of what its like.

The year I went, my friend took me to the Salgueiro samba school, a couple of weeks before carnaval got underway. The whole place was bustling and draped with its colors. It was loud, and it was hot (in every sense of the word!) He asked a female friend to teach me to samba.

At first, I felt a bit intimidated, but once her hips were swinging and shaking, and she was having a damn good time doing it, I just let myself go. Whatever I lacked in technique, I believe I made up for in enthusiasm! And, at least I had some basic moves when watching the flurry of celebration in the Sambadromo. And, I think that pretty much sums up Carnaval and the Brazilian way of life. Let loose, have fun, drink a caipirinha and dance!

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