Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dinner with Danny

Tag you’re it. No you missed me. Danny, generous as always had tried to include me in his birthday celebration. Not quite up to my NYC or Blackberry speed, I hadn’t keyed in at the right time. Cut to me, being me, I ran downtown to learn that the message I was responding to that had no time/date stamp was for the party yesterday. Oh, well. As a do-over, Danny suggested that we go out for some African food together. I wanted it to happen quickly since I had gifts for him, and his birthday was now. We had a simple, sweet dinner grilled fish and a cous cous like yucca dish, replete with reminiscences of times spent in Brazil and life here in NY. He seems like the global daddy, nurturing just about everyone who crosses his path. What a wonderful present I got this year, 50, having him come into my life. Thanks.

Out of Work

Out of work

I chilled out, unloaded my stuff, ate some cooked food that Michele had kindly left in the fridge for me, and felt my way back into my house and my NY life over the next eight hours. I was too anxious to rest and it was too cold to go out. It was wonderful to hug Michele again, and know that this part of the journey was done. Seeing Cliff would be next. Once that was done, I could move on. Even split again. Later that evening, I began to sort through the GRE materials. I had about thirty six hours until my exam.

I awoke early the next morning, opened the books and struggled through the materials. I crammed, I read, I did sample tests and fretted a great deal about my capabilities in Math. The test came up fairly quickly, and I felt marginally prepared. The center was cool and the other folks seemed far from my reality. The proctors were all grounded, kind yet unyielding black women. Twice I was told that my Identification and locker key were not visible and could be grounds for disqualification. I had come too far and paid too much to lose it that stupidly.

I finished in a sweat, knowing that the essays had not come together to my satisfaction. In this techy era you can view your multiple choice scores immediately after you complete the test. Neither my Verbal nor Math scores were great. I felt like crap. To complete the picture I had scheduled a meeting with Ram directly after the exam. I took the bus north on Third Avenue from the GCT neighborhood and walked into Kidville in the middle of their Halloween party. Shazaam that was a culture shock!

I had a calm discussion with Rammy, talking shop, profit and loss, learning the foibles of the new Maryland store, and other blather before he finally told me that my job was toast. Layoffs had occurred the previous week. When I heard the names of the others, I realized that as bad as it was they were all ancillary employees, janitors, coatcheck a front desk secretary or stock person. Not anyone in management really. Quietly I raged, but I had seen it coming. The room outside of his office was awash with costumed kids and Dads, usually the Dad’s were more done than their children. To fit the model, the Mom’s had the requisite fashion statement status ensemble goin on. A few looked appropriately homey. Everyone was glad to see me, and I wanted to puke. I walked over to Madison, took the bus home and had a drink.

the friendly skies

heading home

Heart tears on the way back into NYC

I had cried as I drove away from Vivaldo’s. Looking back through the rear window, I saw that he was doing the same. How did I make such a strong connection through culture and language, age and race so quickly?

All in all the flight was uneventful. Getting through to the flight was the rub. Henrique was right on time to pick me up at Rua Calzans Neto, Zeno’s place. We drove through Stela Mares on the way to the airport. I settled all accounts with him, and he gave me a hug goodbye. My NY cabbies like me, but don't hug back. At check-in they charged me extra for one of my bags which was a bitch, and I realized that I could have concealed it and kept the money for myself..oh well.

When I changed planes in São Paulo a few hours later, I was told at security I would have to forfeit my Jurabeba. I freaked, inside. There was significance to this bottle, that had nothing to do with its claims for sexual potency. I was forced to back out of security and look for a cheap bag to pack it into. That was a fairly easy and inexpensive equation to solve.

Back through security now, I had to be scanned and frisked, why I wasn’t clear. Bitch. I moved to the passport check and learned that Nicé at Brazilian Travel in NY had counted wrong. Instead of just being at 90 days for my length of stay, I was at 92 and now in violation. Shit.

Not knowing that my flight was about to be delayed I sweated the next ten minutes that this holdup would cost me my seat. Politely I half complained and half joked to the young Customs Official. He quickly said that if I missed my flight, he knew a Brazilian who would put me up, him. How odd, sweet and genuine. He had truly meant it. This is why I didn’t want to go. People embraced me here. I don’t know what my Juju, fairy dust or aura looked like, but something was operative.

His superior came over approved my passage after I signed an affidavit and was informed that I had to present a copy of it with my visa at my next entry into Brazil. Marked. I told them that I loved their country. I could have been singled out for worse offenses. Whew. I checked out Duty Free, had a final shot of Cachaça, bought a CD, and went to the lounge to wait out the new delay. On the plane, I found an extra leg room seat, my dream. Watched the Will Smith, down and out superhero movie, got a bit maudlin over all the goodbyes and drank cheap Argentinean wine all the way to NYC.

The late start meant that I missed Michele when we touched down. Instead of arriving at dawn it was close to eight by the time I got through customs. P.S. with no hassles at all. I had no U.S. dollars, so I was a bit jammed up initially. I found Jill at home, which was essential because I realized that I had no keys to my house. She offered to meet me in Harlem and let me in. I found a cash machine just outside of Baggage Claim, waited another hour for Super Shuttle and made it out in the chill, brutal winter wind to the van and began the final leg back home.

Vivaldo, Joao and the Atlantic

Finding and leaving Vivaldo (bus-cab-scream-breathe)

I had been anxious walking with Big as he cruised his neighborhood, acknowledged all the right folk and bartered for better prices on concrete, nails and lathe. I wanted to be in Pituba on time. I didn’t quite understand which bus or stop was the right one for me. I hoped that it would all become self evident along the way.

As it worked, the bus was much slower than I had imagined. My phone was inoperable, so calling Henrique was a non reality. By the time we hit Avenida João VI, which I knew began the beginning of the hamlet, it was a few minutes shy of nine. I hoped that it would fall into place as we drove on. I asked the driver and he was somewhat clueless. Other passengers interjected their thoughts, but it was a blur to everyone. I kept going thinking that I would see a landmark, just ahead. In my stress, I had botched the name of the cul-de-sac that Vivaldo lived on.

Finally at 9:05 with nothing quite adding up, I jumped off the bus, flagged a cab and asked for help. He was local to the area, a bit spacey and had no idea what I was talking about. After we circled a few blocks he agreed to let me use his cell. He dialed the number and started to talk to one of the housekeepers when Vivaldo obviously grabbed the phone on the other end and barked directions at him. His neck hairs tensed and we sped off. It took him some time after we came into the hood. The guard at the gate recognized me and we drove down the block. It was almost 9:30. I heard the dogs barking behind the gate when we drove up.

Vivaldo was already at the curb looking out for us. Immediately he had decided that I had found one of those merciless cabs who had just taken me for a ride. He ripped a new asshole and gave him a colon cleanse for my driver, who initially was apologetic, then defensive, and finally brutally hostile. The Latins' were in session, and it wasn’t pretty. I worried for this man, who rightfully bitched of failing health. I thought this was not the catalyst for an episode or a bad memory of Scott that needed to be the denouement of my morning or my new acquaintanceship. I just wanted the cab to drive away.

One of the housekeepers pulled on Vivaldo’s arm, as the cab cursed, took the three point turn too quickly and sped off. Immediately Vivaldo was protective and apologetic of me. Later, he demanded specifics. He told me that I had already missed lunch. “Lunch?” I asked. It seems that even though I had shared my schedule with him, he had planned a luncheon last Saturday with two eminent Anthropologists he thought I should meet, but I never telephoned. “Oy vey, here we go….” So when we went back to the cab incident, I was honest and anxious as I shared the details. He told me that I needed to learn the city; No… “I needed to stay here with him, read, study and ask questions. That was it!

--When did I have to go to NY?”

“: Today, no that wouldn’t work. Couldn’t I stay on?” “Boy, did I wish….” Well, he decided we just had to get to work, time was passing quickly. We sat down and were served juice and coffee before I went upstairs to the library and he retired to his office. Before we split he finally explained the relationship he had to the comely middle aged Blonde who had been and still was ever present. I had thought that she was a cousin, sister or some relation. No, she was the widow of his cousin’s friend up from São Paulo. He had thought that her mourning should happen somewhere else to clear her head. She had spent two months with him, and would leave in a few days.

I got lost in my studies upstairs, candy all around me. It was true, we both saw books the way most men see porn. I was beside myself and barely knew where to start. Especially since most everything was written in Portuguese, then French, with a small minority of titles in English. Hours later he called up to me with a restless throaty yell. He was hungry, wasn’t I? “Come down so we can discuss lunch.” I shut the books, closed the sliding glass doors and locked up before I climbed down the stairs. As I expected a double Scotch neat and a few beefy snacks were waiting us in the sitting room. He asked if I had any special dining requests? “We eat simply here, whatever they fix is fine, it is always a surprise.” I thought that a bit curious since he was a Culinary Anthropologist, but I stayed quiet and went with it.

We were four for lunch, his cousin, the widow, Vivaldo and me. We had a simple meal of a macaroni salad, some simply cooked vegetables, grilled chicken, rice, Farofa, and some stewed fish. He opened a round Argentinean Cab for he and I, while his cousin drank coke. In the end, the widow joined us in the Cab. After lunch he told me of his family’s business, Jurabeba Leão do Norte. I acknowledged that I was familiar with the history. Consequently he felt that I needed a bottle to remember him by. We sipped this bitter that was alleged to aid and strengthen my member whenever needed. Whatever. Then he had them bring us some Nocello and coffee with the sorvete we had for dessert.

It wasn’t three o’clock and I was swimming in the sauce, trying to keep my tenses straight and not make a bigger ass of myself. We decided that it was better to end our session here. He sketched out his summer, our winter and we made tentative plans to get together in May or June. His driver picked me up, and we drove north along the coast to Zeno’s to get my bags, say goodbye to Zeno, João, Itapúa, and actually Brazil.

Biggie and his hood

Cookin’ it up with Dada, hanging with Big, his mom and his Spliffs…

Monday late afternoon, when I got off the Lancha, I headed up the Lacerda to Big’s (pronounced Biggie) store. He had wanted me to buy/bring an Orixá painting to Danny for his birthday. I knew that at minimum I needed to buy something from him as a thank you for the people he had introduced me to. From the day I had met him, I knew that his friendship came at some kind of price. No matter, he had been sweet and generous with his time, his family and his contacts. And the mini canvases were cheap enough.

When I got there, he let me know that he was hurt that I had never taken him up on his offer to have a meal or stay for a week at his house. We talked for a bit, and we decided that I would spend the night with him. He told me that he had no food in the house, so why didn’t I go get some chow. I walked up to the cash machine, nosed around for some grub, and decided to try once more to suss out Dada at her Pelourinho spot, Sorriso de Dada. When I walked in the door, I saw her on the phone. I grabbed a table in the back, ordered a Moqueca de Polvo, Agua de Coco, a Caipirinha and an audience with Dada.

She sashayed over, deep cleavage revealed an ample bosom in her strapless satiny gown. Silky whitecloth wrapped tightly round her head obscured her hair. She was quick to hug and talk shop. I explained my previous attempts to share a TV slot with her. She apologized, and we got down to business sharing stories, laughing and revealing some trump cards. She was on the heels of a Norwegian excursion, she had been contracted to teach them Bahian Bacalhau recipes. The Norwegian Fisheries Commission had contracted her to write a small cookbook. In the best way she was bawdy, colored and full of fun, and little modesty. Dada was the Brazilian Emerald or Bobby Flay with her empire and kingdom. She was the ambassador of Bahian cuisine, and had been the darling and a character inspiration to Jorge Amado. Dada was gap tooth girl (a traveler) with an agenda. We had so much good laugh time that I almost missed Big.

He asked me to pay for a cab, so that we could get home faster. Like many people in retail, when it was over he was too through. Done and extra crispy. He wanted to get home, chill roll a fatty and forget. One of his salesgirls came with us as we walked down to Baixa dos Sapateiros to find a cab. Big precisely directed the taxi through the city only offering the driver a few blocks worth of information at any moment. This is the real way to travel in town. I have seen too many cabs take the scenic route to build the meter check.

His house was a crazy conflagration of shack, DYI and mansão. He had bought a double lot, and just kept adding floors as he had money and construction materials. Obviously he had sold many, many little canvases and building codes were probably a fiction. The ground floor façade was non-descript to fit in with the working class homes of his neighbors on his lane in Sete Portas. He had cleverly constructed the entrance with an ante room to prevent an onlooker to see over his shoulder when he turned the key and see what booty was inside the house. Like Danny he was an Ogun, and he had an ofrendo in the anteroom. He took no chances. I quickly learned as I had guessed that he was some kind of made man. He told me that he grew up on the streets to learn how to live. He had been with gangsters, and was not a gangster. He had been with drug dealers and was not a dealer or a user. He knew everyone, but stayed clean. After I set down my things, I went back to the street to make some calls, solidify my agreement with Henrique to drive me to the airport, confirm tomorrow’s meeting with Vivaldo and say a few quick goodbyes.

Back in the house, he called down to me to head up to the roof. There he sat with his co-worker and his mother, her parrots and parakeets rolling spliffs for all takers. The top floor was half open to the sky. He told me he was making a suite for people like me to come and stay in. He and his mom who was quite attractive, petite (as was he) and café au lait to his deep ebony skin, told me that I had a room for Carnaval, just confirm my flight and I was all set.

I took several pictures of his expressive face in the half light of the moonrise. For whatever reason, Big had cottoned to me. He cooked up the idea that we should collaborate on a book. It seems that Oprah had been one of the many black Americans who had traipsed through his tchoctke gallery.

Allegedly before he knew quite who she was he had invited her home for lunch. His story goes that she loved her meal so much she came back two days later and wanted more. When she went to pay for the meal, he insisted that this was his home not a restaurant, he would be insulted to accept money. “But I am….”-she trailed off. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you are my guest,” he asserted. Out came the card and the invitation to Chicago. “Come be on the show, tell me how I can help you, whenever you need it.”

So now he wanted to cash in. Did I think that she would cover the U.S. book publication and publicity fees? He had a source for the Brazilian side. We could make it work, together he assured me. Wow…some sleepover. I said that I needed to think on it. What a possibility, Vivaldo all day, and Big all night. I foresaw two sides to Salvador, two books and very little sleep. Hmm. I needed to take some notes, straighten up my stuff for traveling and prep myself for my day with Vivaldo. I went downstairs, showered, charged all my technology and crashed.

In the morning, his mom made coffee while we fed the birds and Big got his blunts together. He told me that he would walk me to the Pituba bus on his way to Pelourinho. Every person who crossed his path he either knew, or they owed him a favor or needed a hand. I guessed that I should be calling him Don Big. The specter of working together took on deeper resonance. He bought some building materials for a some L.A. black friends reno' job he was supervising and dropped me at the bus stop. All along the way I was shooting pics, probably to the consternation of my made man. We parted with a full embrace, and I agreed to send him copies of my pictures and a response to his request. Whew that was a great deal to experience before eight A. M.

The last lancha ride for awhile. Davis dropped me off, just like always

Junior, aka Arroz or Rice

Cenoura, Bodogi, China & Feijoes-(Carrots, Bulldog, Chinese & Beans)

boys to men

Men never lose their boyish nature in gesture or in heart. Horsing and slappin’ backs; yet rarely embracing. Emotions are often held at a distance, stored in a jar.
Boys wanting to be men learn distancing quickly emulating fathers and men they see in their lives. Stony smiles barely slip through bloodless pursed lips.

Here, Itaparica in the Brazil I have met the boys/young I have come to know do embrace. They came into my life to share their love of Capoeira. Historically it had been outlawed by the state. To begin to practice, play or joga your master baptizes you with a name, possibly silly or indicative of your nature. Ultimately a foil, or subterfuge if questioned by the police.

Being around these young me, I saw their hearts peak out; shining winning grins on cue. They really do live inside their skins and their innocence. They revealed their emotions. Nurturing each other befitted their nature more than tough bluffing and swelled chests which trap more air than passion.

Each one: Feijões, Cenoura, China, Bodogi and Correia were not sure how to gather a net for Junior after his mother died suddenly. They were as confused as all young men are who are not ready to understand death. Through the initial period, they remained attentive and patient; not shut down or vacant. Their presence swaddled the love they had of their homey like a downy feather bed.

I am not sure if time heals, or if it just softens the reality of the pain. That day back at Sacatar; Monday, na segunda 27-October I saw flashings, molten metal emotions hot for a moment then rising as fog burned off by morning sun. These buddies who joga Capoeira together were silently, invisibly hugging Junior, (aka Arroz), guiding him like a true posse on his road forward.

Sunday, November 16, 2008