Diane Arbus captured the most discredited and bizarre among us in familar and “normal” settings. She saw her subjects as aristocrats who lived life with courage. I have admired her eye for 45 years.
The flight from LAX to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) had been a long one but while tired I was excited to be at last joining the movie company to film on location. I had been hired to train Jaguars and was the only America working for the British film. When I met Gabriel at customs, I soon discovered that I had stepped into a surreal world and time. He stared right through me wearing a sweat-stained t-shirt that read “Kill Them All and Let God Sort them Out.” I could just make out a faded French Foreign Legion logo on a worn canvas bag slung over his shoulder.
In a thick Portuguese accent, he said in rehearsed English, “Welcome to Brazil,” and commenced to orchestrate us through customs. This was the tone that the shooting of this movie would take for the better part of a year. We filmed in fifty-five different locations that year which took us from the coast to deep in the jungles of the Amazon. We were on a golden voyage, a real old school adventure and it was 1984. Each day took us further from what we knew to a world of wild animals, jungle darkness, danger, Voodoo and real outlaws. We were a long way from home.
The production company knowing we would be filming in the backcountry of Brazil decided to employ a fixer, a bodyguard to look after me and my crew. If you didn’t know the year you would have thought that Gabriel was playing an outlaw in a ’40s movie set in a Banana Republic. He wore a Panama hat tilted over one eye and a loosely fitting white linen shirt that covered the pistol which he always carried in his waist belt. Simply put, his job was to keep us safe and make things go smoothly. And he did it with dedication and vigor over the year of our filming. Gabriel and I developed a close friendship that grew out of sharing a dangerous adventure that required us to live by our wits and depend on each other.
He didn’t really speak English and I didn’t speak Portuguese. But fortunately most everyone in the country spoke Spanish so I relied on it to get us by. It didn’t take me long to observe that Gabriel was known and feared by everyone we encountered. He was closely connected to the cocaine trade of South America. This was after all the 1980’s.
Gabriel could get you almost anything and he could make almost anything happen. But his real specialty was making problems go away. But I didn’t realize how good he was at this or how seriously he took his job until one evening after a long day of filming.
We had found a great little open-air bar that was terraced on a river looking out into the jungle in a little village near one of our locations. Besides serving great local drinks, it had the best garlic, sautéed shrimp I had ever eaten. So most evenings you could find the production company there. We were young and single and as such fit right in with the young crowd in the village. But as we got more familiar this caused jealousies with some of the locals that we didn’t realize until that evening.
A mixed group of us were enjoying ourselves drinking and dancing on the terrace. It was late and most of us had had our share of the local drink, Pinga or Cachaça, a dangerously strong and delicious spirit distilled from sugarcane when a man barged in yelling that we had not given him a job and had taken all the women of the village.
My friend, Colin, who being Irish held his drink better than the rest of us, stood up holding a drink out as a peace offering. But the man picked up a bottle and threw it hitting him squarely in the forehead. Colin fell like a sack of potatoes bleeding profusely. Several of us including Gabriel jumped up to give chase, as the man darted out and into the cover of the jungle.
Several minutes later, I found Gabriel and a few of his men in a clearing where they had the man on the ground. Hastily, Gabriel sent me back with one of his men after assuring me he would take care of the matter. And trust me, there was no arguing with Gabriel when he was working. So we attended to getting Colin to a small clinic where they very efficiently sewed him up.
For days afterward, Colin who didn’t speak Spanish asked me to question Gabriel as to what happened to the man. Gabriel always gave a vague answer and quickly changed the subject. This didn’t satisfy Colin who pestered me to continue asking.
Finally, after about a month this, while having lunch, Colin pressed me to ask again. This time, Gabriel was at the end of his patience. He pulled his pistol out and laid it on the table, leaned forward and leveled his dark, hard eyes on me and said, “Tell Colin to stopped asking me about the past. Let’s just say the man no longer lives in Brazil.”
I never asked Gabriel again.
Our dog, ChaCha, passed today. Many thanks to Arrowhead Animal Hospital and Dr. Grant Mayne, for the care and understanding in her final days here with us. ChaCha was a stellar dog. She performed all endeavors with vigor and love. ChaCha displayed splendid behavior that we could all learn from. Pleasant journeys old friend and we’ll see you down the road.
Postcards for Education Project!. I support this project by a fellow educator, blogger and just great person. Lucia is a school teacher in Columbia.
If you thought you only cook salmon on a cedar plank, you’re wrong. We had planks down South one time but no salmon. So we decided to use halibut, which we had lots of and a new recipe was born. And we’ve loved it ever since!
First you need a plank. You can buy planks that cost more that then the fish is worth if you go to a BBQ store or you can make your own and save lots of pesos.
We live in the mountains where cedar is abundant. You just cut a dry cedar log to length and split it into less than 1” planks. Or you can go to any DYI box store and buy cedar fencing. Cut it into about 8” lengths and you’re in business. Make sure the wood has not been treated with anything. You’re pretty safe with cedar. It usually isn’t. But ask someone at the store if you’re unsure. The ¾” thickness that most fencing planks come in is perfect. You can actually use them more than once.
So now you have a plank cut to a length that fits your filet(s). The next step is to soak it in water for about an 30 minutes. You can add apple juice, homebrew, wine or whatever to give some interesting aromas and taste if you like.
Filets of halibut, lemon, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic and a little olive oil.
Lightly rub the filets with a little olive oil.
Sprinkle filets with brown sugar, chopped garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
Slice a half lemon and lay slices on top of the filets. Save a little to serve with the filets.
Place the plank on a hot grill and let set covered for about 10 minutes before you put the fish on.
Now place the filets on the plank(s) and cook until it flakes but is still moist, depending on the thickness about 15 or 20 minutes. You just need to watch it and not drink and talk with your friends; unless you’re a woman as they’re capable of doing more than one task at a time.
It is important to close the cover of the BBQ to get the benefits of the cedar smoke.
When you savor this delicate dish with it’s cedar smoked flavor, you will cry and believe that life is splendid.