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The International Writers Magazine
Newark NJ

Portugal Day- Ironbound District
Newark, NJ
Ulle Trautvag |

A $1.50 fare brings me from the PATH station at Manhattan’s 6th Avenue and 33rd Street to Penn Station in Newark, NJ.  I’m looking forward to this day because last year I happened on this fest and wound up having a great time dancing in the streets and feasting on all types of seafood. 
This year I planned to attend.  Anticipation is high as I follow music toward Ferry Street onto which I make a left and am immediately blasted by deafening sound.  The noise is palpable, giving rhythm to the crowd’s forward movement; my feet begin an involuntary merengue shuffle. Garlands and banners decorate the street which is packed along its 12 mile length with people strolling past food vendors whose signs advertise Comidas Típicas Ecuadorianas, food from Brasil, Mexico, Colombia and, of course, Portugal.  $1 will buy you roasted corn, large-kernel corn or arepas.  Roast suckling pig is a great favorite as rows of glistening brown porkers lie on bellies with legs splayed. It is 5 pm and I appreciate the large quantities of pig since last year they ran out and I was greatly disappointed. They are on my “must try” list today.
It seems that every corner has a band, tape player or boom box that blares all types of music rooted in Iberian, Central and South American cultures.  I hear samba, merengue, bachata, cumbia.  Exuberance is fueled by stands selling large sangria for $8, pina colada, capirinha, margarita, beer and – yes – jello shots.  The crowd in front of Adega is especially lively where several scantily dressed young women are dancing on top of the outside bar, which is surrounded by men downing shots.  Two young men have drawn an audience as they perform the capoeira. Vigilant policemen stand nearby. 
I can’t believe it is possible for sound to increase but it does as Forklift and I approach Jefferson Street.  A large band on stage is playing Brazilian rock to a jumping audience, arms waving, that is screaming the lyrics.  The sound is unbelievable! Percussion attacks me and invades my body. I feel the reverberations and must clap hands over hurting ears.  Now I understand how the Seabourn Spirit repelled Somali pirates by directing its secret weapon, a blast of sound, at them.  It works!  Can’t dance; must leave.
The need for some quiet draws us to Lafayette Street where we enter Seabras Marisqueira, famous for its seafood.  The room is tiled in Portuguese blue and is occupied by a large horseshoe-shaped counter anchored in the center by glass cases piled high with cold cooked lobster, Dungeness crab, clams and head-on shrimp.  Seafood heaven.
And it’s relatively quiet.  Groups of people share huge portions of marinated octopus, shrimp, squid, clams, oysters, cockles and all manner of lobster.  They accompany these with red wine.  I walk through the back room which has several family-sized tables crowded with diners who all seem to be enjoying lobster. The abundance of this crustacean makes the $100 a pound lobster salad that is being offered in The Hamptons even more obscene. Here it is $12.  A man approaches Forklift’s side of the counter, orders a plate of shrimp, leaves it on the counter and departs.  He returns about 20 minutes later and asks:  “Did you eat this?”  Puzzled, Forklift shakes his head,  “Well” says the man, “it is yours.” 
Forklift’s large paella and my mariscada have sated us; we pack the rest and venture out the door.  More people, more noise, more music.  We pass Iberia Peninsula restaurant which has several gigantic outdoor grills that roast an array of chicken, slabs of beef,  racks of sardines.  A long counter is erected where one can buy oysters, clams, cold lobster, the beef,  chicken and sardines and enjoy them at family-style tables.  Iberia shares the street with Sagres which is offering similar food.  Everyone is eating.  $2 will get you half a chicken or four sardines; $12 a whole lobster.  Wash it down with beer or sangria.
Across Ferry Street is Iberia Square, the heart of this fest.  The square is packed with people either dancing to the large band, eating at tables or just people watching, roaming from counter to counter, bar to bar.  I can’t resist the samba that is starting up and join the crowd which is clearly enjoying itself.  A merengue follows and then more and more.  I dance alone and with Forklift and we cannot stop.  Finally, time constraints urge us to take our leave and we reluctantly do some dance steps out of the gate of the square as notes of samba follow us.  Don’t start dancing again. 
Once more we pass stalls selling roast suckling pig and, although I’m stuffed, I must buy a plate.  The $2 sample is delicious, with crisp, crackling skin and tender, juicy meat.  We arrive at the end of Ferry Street where we are confronted by a phalanx of all types of police vehicles, including some that look like SWAT trucks. They are backed up by at least three towering garbage trucks.  Message received.  My upbeat mood inspires me to smile at the policemen; they don’t smile back .   My hips are starting to ache...
September brings Brazil Day.  Oh, boy!

© Ulle Trautvag  July 2007

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