Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rio Vermelho-Red River

Thursday July 31arrived and we tried to understand what we should tackle next. The last few days had been great sunny beach days and we had been on the go. Michele suggested that we hit the beach, maybe one north of town. Our beach at Porto do Baha and manyof the northern beaches had been the haunts of the music stars of the Tropicalia movement in their late teens and 20's. Several songs had been written beachside or dedicated to the good times had at those then secret beach fronts. Anna called and asked if we were free that evening to go to Rio Vermelho for Caipirnhas and Acaraje do Dinha (in her mind, the best in town). We agreed to be ready around 9:00 to be picked up. Paulo was working late that evening and would try to meet us there, later on. Ana again was full of pep and giggles. We drove out along the coast under a moonless sky, with a soundtrack of crashing surf. The sunsets early close to the equator, at least in their winter. When I have seen the moon it is quite low in the sky, and the stars seem quite distant, more so than in our hemisphere. The roadside bar offered an oceanview and was nestled in a fork in two avenues near a recently renovated historic district. Rio Vermelho sounded like a core community for a key part of the black community, including both politically focused and Orisha based folks. The annual festa de Iemenja takes place there and attracts tensof thousands of participants.
Paulo was there with a few friends when we arrived. He said he left early, to insure that we could hangout. Our bar, was open 24 hours offering a few light snacks, beers, caipirinhas and a limited variety of mixed drinks. On the seaside was the red barraca of mae Dinha and her cohorts. We got both Acaraje and Abarra, (both are a fist sized black eye pea snacks, the former being prepared similar to falafel, fried in palm oil, and split in half along the middle. They are then stuffed with quiabo/stewed okra, smoked stewed shrimp, aipim, hot sauce and onions. The Abarra are sesoned with onion, garlic and palm oil. They are then steamed in banana leaves for a moiste texture. Ana's husband, a local surgeon who worked between Salavdor and a rural township walked up out of the darkness. A large ruddy man with a wide smile. Shortly thereafter, someone walked up with queijo quemado, a hearty cheese rectangle on a wooden skewer. They held a small metal pot full of red hot coals in their other hand. If you bought a stick, they set it in the coals until it blistered and blackened. It was served on a plate with crushed oregano on one side and a puddle of honey on the other. You decide whether you like it savory or sweet. We ordered some cheese sticks and chomped them down quickly. Next came someone with roasted cashews. He was followed by a peanut vendor. The amendoine or peanut sellers offered two different styles of Spanish style peanuts. Either roasted and salted and served wrapped in paper. The more common style was salty boiled peanuts. Less salty and more firm than what I have enjoyed in the south. Either way was quite delicious with the peanuts being freshly harvested. In another corner there was a pipoca or popcorn wagon with both regular and caramel varieties of freshly popped local corn. A Carbo loader's heaven. Of course every so often someone stopped by with beaded jewelry and cocoshell necklaces. The environment offered its own sense of theatre. We stayed for several hours, laughing, drinking talking about art and careers. It was decided that Ana's friend should drive her car home, her husband would drive her home and Paulo would take us. Everywhere we went we saw the Guarda Civil, and our friends clued us in to the strictness of driving laws and general conduct in public. It turned out as we drove home that there was a random checkpoint, and even though Paulo had been careful in his drinking, he turned off the main thoroughfare to avoid any conflict. We made it home without incident and crashed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 30-Heaven and hell in Heaven

Big day on campus. At 9:30 Prof. Anna Beatrice Simon, picked us up to go to UFBA (Universidade Federal da Bahia). Anna was a contact Michele made through a colleague who had given a workshop here some years ago. Michele was scheduled to present a lecture on some of her own graphic art and her research on the history of American Black Graphic Designers. Anna spoke decent English, so we tried to trade languages in our conversation in the car. She is quite ebullient and perpetually animated. I assumed my position and shoot pictures from the backseat as we listen to Anna describe her view of Bahia, her doctoral work researching the history jewelry design by Brazilian slaves and her collective of designers creating jewelry from recycled PET plastics. We also discussed the nature of her department and her hopes for Michele's lecture. We arrived at the school to see what looked like a sorority hazing. Two bright young students greeted us, and escorted us to the lecture hall. Unfortunately, it took almost an hour to get the computers to work together so that the Powerpoint, etc could be connected. The room was filled with students from all levels of graphic design, their professors and the department chair. One of Michele's colleagues, Paulo Souza acted as translator for her. Once it began Michele scored a big hit. She introduced her beauty products line indicating that the concept, execution and packaging were all created by her. The meat of the presentation dealt with her design history project. For most of the students and the professors it became not just a discussion of the realities and contributions of Black Graphic Designers, but issues of the color line, miscegenation, segregation and politics of the last 100 years. This initiated a volatile discussion of their own attitudes on domestic race relations and perceptions of color based on skin tonality. At this moment the professors were more engaged than their young students, since they were clearly sensitized to issues of race and color in ways that the students appeared to be naive or more idealistic. With too much chutzpah, I interjected my thoughts into the dialogue as discussion escalated. In the end, I felt that we had just begun to discuss the heart of the matter and draw references to between the issues of design and race. This was a moment where I quickly saw the difficulty of working with a translator when the translator is not well versed in the subject matter. This is not a negative reflection on Paulo, just a comment on the essential nature of effective communication across culture and life experience.
The presentation and discussion ran over the allotted time so we did not have a moment to stop and eat lunch with the design staff. We came back home, and I prepared a simple meal of lentil soup, cucumber & tomato soup,
Queijo Minas and Pao de milho. I decided to take this time to address my immediate concerns going forward.
So by now you're getting the gist, something is wrong in computer land. I have spent a few days now, using my rudimentary knowledge to troubleshoot the situation. At Michele's behest, I even mad a Skype call to Tracy Collins in Bklyn and we brainstormed it out. His fixes though good did not solve the dilemma. So, I resorted to calling Microsoft, Lenovo and Trend Micro Virus Protection Software. 7 hours later, boy do I love Skype now. If you don't have it, get it. Once, I made the initial call overseas at $0.21/minute as opposed to $1.99, I was dialed into 800 numbers, so everything that way was cool. In the end, I learned that my hardware was ok, my MS office suite was a trial version, shit!; and allegedly the firewall that my Virus Software was throwing up wouldn't be a factor once the connection was up; "Why don't I try my ISP?" Arggh.
So here I am, needing a computer, needing internet and not needing a lost day in a beautiful place, especially one with no resolution. Finally, I dialed back to Alain, who gave me his tech's number. Alain, is the stuff of spy novels and Graham Greene exPat stories. He has a number and a name for everything. When I asked about changing money he gave me the lowdown. fine. Then 10 minutes later, he called and told me that he had a friend who could change large amounts for a good rate, in my home (rented condo); better rates than the banks. But,....I needed to change a minimum of $500 and preferably 1G. Ok, how many slices in that pie? But, I had already seen how this is a place of anything is possible, sorta, for a price. Or, if you don't want to it, it can get done by someone else down the food chain.
Back to my tech story. I had wrung my hands, beat my chest, cooled out and then given up. let's go to the beach. We had a nice swim got a simple lunch of grilled corvina, fejaio frandinha, (black eyed peas), rice farofa, Siri and Salad and mineral water of course. I finished with a cafezinho, and we were off to change some money. We needed to find the Citibank, since at this point we had few American dollars left. Previously, we had been going to Money Exchange Centers. At Citibank and HSBC we could be able to use the ATM to access our U.S. accounts. We found it, got our money, did some more food shopping and took it all back in the apartment.
I guess I should give some backstory on Glenn and Joe's place. Smartly, they decided after 9-11 to create an out for themselves. They had been here before and were able find a place under construction and picked one of the spaces on the top, 18th floor. It is a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom flat with a living/ding rm, terrace, washing machine indoor clothes line, WIFI/Cable and microwave. Wall to wall stone tile, predominately white leather furnishings, artificial flowers which seemed out of context in the tropics.The building has 2 small pools, a sauna, exercise room, community room, garage and small chapel. Much more bang for my buck than I had expected, with spectacular views of the Bay, (Bahia do Todos Santos).
Back to the story. Eneida, Danny's friend had suggested that we come to an opening at ACBEU ( ). We had also received a call from Giovanna, a friend of Ana's, a local teacher and installation artist who had been a past receipent of Sacatar Grant, who was planning to come to the opening. As it turned out, August is the month dedicated to citywide photo exhibitions. This particular show was focusing on masking traditions that visually recalled blackface imagery albeit with white greasepaint and not black. Collectively the portraits reflected a sense of passion, grace and joy. We met a few folks from the local community of artists and creative types. I had forgotten to describe myself to Giovanna, but she found us anyway. It seems that Ana had taken care of that piece. Giovanna turned out to be our local angel. She has a classic beauty, recalling Botticelli's women to me. She had good spunk and was a lovely ambassador, guide and running buddy. We made plans to meet again later that week to go to MAM (Museo de Arte Moderno) for their weekly winter outdoor music series. We said goodnight and walked down the street to a hotel (Hotel Do Bahia [?]) for a simple dinner. We had a poopoo platter of stiksnacks, which seemed to be the same dough as the beiju wrapped around a variety of fillings and cut into isoceles triangles, fried and served with sweet diping sauces, (hoisin, tropical fruits and reduced balsamic), Hearts of Palm, Cashew and Crab salad with (crabstick-the first I had seen of this ingredient) with green leaf lettuce and a citrus soy vinaigrette that drowned out the hearts of palm. We shared an entree of grilled vermelho with rice, farofa and beans (?). I had two glasses of a Chilean Cab that were quite good, though served intentionally from the refrigerator. We took the bus home and chilled. That night, I began to feel a little achy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

First Days in Salvador

Arriving at the apartment close to 2AM, we slept heavily for several hours til just after dawn. Then we dozed and woke repeatedly until 10ish. Alain, the agent for the apartment came promptly at noon, full of vinegar and plastic smiles. Bruskly, he recited the details of his life and the needs and responsibilities of the house. Born in Egypt, raised in Syria, lost his virginity in Paris, built a real estate career in L.A. and realized 16 years ago that he needed another kind of life, so now he is doing real estate & property management in Salvador
Quickly, he began cluing us into how to light the stove, wash clothing, use the TV's, access the net,buy bottled water and charge the complementary go-phones. It all came out in such a flurry, I felt as though I should have taken notes or recorded it. In part, I can say we were spent, but as such he could have taken time to insure that we were clear on all aspects of the place. In the end, we had to call and email him several times to fill in the gaps we had missed in this audience. He left in the same whirl that had brought him in.
After we caught our breath, we showered and prepared to change money, get some food, take a walk, buy groceries and check out the neighborhood. From our 18th floor view to the street the air was fresh, like San Francisco Bay, the sun warm and friendly, though not blisteringly hot. On the corner was well stocked fruit & vegetable stand run by a caramel toned man. He sported an stubbled head, gravely voice and a warm smile. After circling the hood a bit, we settled on a local bar restaurant about 2 blocks from home. The Moqueqa de Camarao was good the Cascanha de Siri was decent, but i misunderstood the waiter and ordered Maltbier instead of Pilsner. (Read OE/Old English).After lunch we charged our phones, checked out the beach-full of overtanned hangerson, skimpy suits, a 17th century fort and too many men hawking too many things that weren't on my agenda. We found a BomPreco-the local market chain which embodied both Food Emporium and C-Town.
Shortly thereafter we went back home and collapsed for a much needed deep sleep. We woke up the next day, earlyish and I made some phone calls to solve my new computer problems.....I couldn't access the net and was getting various error messages on the computer. In addition, I began to address some of the folks on the various lists that we had been given too. We found a few, Eneida, Valdina, Zeno to be precise. We decided to check out the Pelourinho and figured out the bus and made our way into town.
Salvador's historic district is divided into Cidade Baixa and Cidade Alta. To access the upper city, there was an express elevator for 5 cents. We got off the elevator in front of a magnificent palatial mansion, which had been the first governor's mansion. Established n the 16 hundreds, and rebuilt in the 19th century. We strolled through the house, shooting pictures and slowly made our way through the main thoroughfare of Pelourinho seeking out history and culture, both Portuguese and African. In the Praca de Se, (Plaza of the Cathedral), we stopped at the Museo de Misericordia, (museum of mercy/compassion). They had an exhibit of recent interpretations of the Orisha in abstract sculpture, textiles and watercolor. Leaving the exhibit we made our way to the second square we were welcomed by 4 women of varying ages dressed as Mae's. I tried to sneak a photo and they caught me. They let me know that a photo cost money, but if i paid them their fee they would give the money to their terreiro. We could have photos taken with them. We sat and talked with them briefly and walked on to explore the square. We found the Museo Afro-Bahiana which had a nice synchretic history of African Art juxtaposed with the spiritual significance and imagery attached to the sculpture, implements and objects that are customary in African exhibits. One of the high points was a nice display of large six foot wooden carvings of the Orishas done 20 years ago or so, by a Frenchman (?) who came and fell in love with the area and the culture. The museum segued into a museum of archaeology and anthro, which displayed artifacts from this area as well as indigenous artifacts from the Amazon. In the end we found a traditional buffet lunch of authentic Bahian fare at tourist pricings. Everything was quite tasty and the second floor setting was quite charming since it overlooked the square. Landing back on the street we were once again accosted by a variety of uniformed and licensed souvenir hawkers offering jewelry, t shirts, and rustic instruments. we pushed through these salesmen and the bevy of tourists to recross the square we found a capoeira demonstration and our 4 friends, seated still in front of another church. I believe this square held 4 churches. We decided to check the alleys and side streets for some of our contacts and found the Olodum drum practice session, a local museum of folk art and the Teatro e Fundacao de Jorge Amado on the site of the Pelourinho Square. Pelourinho means pillory, and this had been the site of slave beatings. The pillory pole is long gone, but many people are in place to cue you into the history. We watched at one of the cities hundred or so Acaraje stands, while a local Mae Santo made acaraje and barra. Feeling tired, we walked back up to the square, where our 4 new friends convinced us to follow them into a large gem dealer and jewelry store. We sat with Inicia and she showed us a variety of stones, gave us a history of gems and the family that had run this establishment for over 30 years. We toured the facility and their modest museum of gems and stone carving before heading back to the elevator and west to Barra.
When we arrived at home, the phone rang, and Eneida, (one of Danny's best friends in Salvador was calling to invite us to her gallery). Michele suggested that we walk, and up the steep hill we went. In the end, the walk was much longer than we had anticipated, and we nearly held Eneida up from her early evening appointment. We did manage to make the connection, see the gallery at ACBEU and enjoy her company for a bit. Back home, we relaxed and I made a simple dinner as we prepared to rest and I tried to understand how to resolve my computer shenanigans.