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My first encounter with a barbecued goat took place under a pale blue summer sky by the Danube River in Romania. My host, poet Mircea Dinescu, had the beast sacrificed and burned in my honor. I was greeted to the poet's latifundia by a delirious band of half-potted, toothless musicians sounding something between "Hail to the Chief" and "Good Night Irene" on ancient brass instruments. Following on the wake of this mind-boggling ensemble, named for unfathomable reasons "Mambo Syria," came strapping young fellows portaging the sizzling beast on their shoulders. My host, brandishing a machete, ran alongside, lopping chunks off the sacrifice and debating its readiness. Eventually, the offering was centered on the long table in the dining hall and the assembled poets and artists fell on it with steel implements and bare hands, toasting each other every other mouthful with a shot of the poet's own homemade brandy. "Mambo Syria" played on, becoming less structured and more obscene as portions of goat and brandy reached them.

My second goat occurred on a sweltering mid-July afternoon in a sculpture park in Minneapolis. The massive stone sculptures were the work of Zoran Mojsilov, a famed carver of local monuments who roasts a goat every year around this time. Assisted by a number of Balkan restaurateurs, Zoran had secured the beast to the fire pit in the morning. By the time I got there, in the early afternoon, the sun was beating down on the heated stones like a molten hammer and the sizzling fat spit off the crispy animal like silver bullets. Standing in the roaring irruption of incandescent chitlins, Zoran yielded a Danubian machete as Gypsy music poured out of loudspeakers. A few yards away, instead of the Danube, flowed the Mississippi. The crowd in the park, artists for the most part, were raising toasts in the dimly remembered languages of their parents. Many of them were of Slavic, German, Polish or Romanian origin, and some of them had visited their ancestral lands and brought back a few toasts and some meaty curse words. An otherwise modestly accoutred Minnesotan with the sweet countenance of a born do-gooder, who'd been to Romania to hug orphans, shouted some unrepeatable obscenity into my blushing ear -- and my ears don't blush often. She was unaware of the full licentiousness of what she so joyfully spoke. "Your Romanian is very good," I complimented her.

After much nicking at the flesh of the rolling caprine, Zoran deemed it done. The first cut went to Michael Lupu, a Romanian-born luminary of the celebrated Guthrie Theatre, because his name means "Wolf" in Romanian, which was fitting. I had the second cut, pronounced it divine, and then the party began in earnest, involving applejack, beer, pita, eggplants, fluttering eyelashes, dancing, whirling skirts, more innocent obscenities, hurling of gnawed bones into the glowing pit, and a honey-like mid-summer dolcezza. My two goats and my two rivers merged.

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