Saturday, August 30, 2008

Obama phenomena

Shortly after I first arrived in Brazil, Obama's snapshot was on the cover of some of the Newstand periodicals, foreign and domestic. The phenom was in our midst, south of the Equator.. Nine days into my stay, I caught the flu and watched a bunch of Brazilian TV, including the first several days of the Olympics.

As you may already know I am not a regular consumer of television. I do find it stimulating to check into TV in foreign places I visit. Especially, when the news is international or specifically American in theme. There is often an additional subtext that is added or missing, depending upon who is reporting and what that nation's attitude is toward US policy. In addition, almost everyone now knows that services such as CNN, offer different feeds for different markets. Unfortunately, the USA does not always receive the most comprehensive or critical "breaking news"

Having engendered many thoughts regarding the racial landscape here in Bahia, I was curious to see what was reported here relative to the Obama phenomena. I also wanted to check my sense of the situation away from the hyper media focus that often scrutinizes fly turds with too much technology and graphics. I saw a bit of printed matter about Barack, but was able to be not privy to the TV coverage. I can tell that many countries around the world have already held a defacto election and Obama wins hands down. Curious how quickly they decided this election, and how reticent we are as a nation to commit to this young freshman senator of color. I was recently informed that the last national census in Brazil had a low count of Black Brazilians. The translation went, more or less, "Depending on your tonality and your politics-you embrace the implication inherent in your skin". A truly different stroke. I tried to counter with the old timey American theory of "one drop of black blood....." How many ways can we be colored?

All of this came into focus as the convention approached. I reflected on how loudly my mother would be cheering for Obama, were she here now. I pondered my dad's reaction to this chain of events relative to the trajectory of his life, growing up in a segregated America and now witnessing the nomination of a black man for president. I looked forward to that discussion.

I found that I could not put up with the pre-game show; as appropriate and magnificent as they most likely were. The remove of another country and culture, made the hyper American media saturation seem disingenuous. Thus, I missed the "Ted" moment, read the Jimmy Carter speech and thoroughly didn't miss the Clintons; the ovation, the elevator gaffe, etc.

I did sit up with Lauri listening to a live stream on a computer with a bad connection for several hours to the acceptance speeches and statements of Michelle and Barack. Inwardly and outwardly I cried hot tears of possibility at this historic moment. May he live up to the dream of the preacher, King, who he sited without coloring the image and be named for tagging the race game.

Here we go. My eldest neice, Juliana Rowen-Bartonwill have an opportunity to vote in her first Federal election this November. What better way for her to begin her life as a young adult in 21st century America.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

O Camino a Carmo

Tuesday evening, at dinner I discussed the possibility of a brief sojurn to Salvador. First Hannah and Rahul and I were going to go. We planned to to to the neighborhood of Vitoria to see an opening at Acbeu, an exhibit at o Museo Costa Pinto entitled; Herança Africana no Universo Baiano – Um Filá de Liberdade, African Heritage in the Bahian Universe, a Line of Liberty. As an adjunct to the exhibit my new friend Ana Bea Simon was presenting her research on the history of slave jewelry traditions; and their was an animated film from Senegal I thought that Hannah should see for inspiration. We discussed shopping for art supplies, Sim cards and books, taking a bag lunch and returning home by eight o'clock. By morning, everyone had a reason to go. I realized that we had left a little late while we were walking the quarter mile to the Kombi (VW van shuttle) stop near the hardware store. I flagged down an approaching Kombi, who took us to Mar Grande to the Lancha, or wooden ferry boat into Salvador. We had a minor dispute over the fare, alleged to be 2 reals and 30 cents. Later I realized that he had decided not to pick up any other passengers intending us to foot the equivalent bill for a full van. Coming home later in the week after another excursion, I learned that this van with seating for eight to nine people, carried fifteen people plus a driver and a moneytaker at rush hours. Gotta pay the rent!.

The boat ride over was sweet and uneventful. The sun was already high in the sky at 11:15, the current was steady but calm and the hawkers were out in full force with ice cream, beer, cocadas, pastries and boiled peanuts. Landing in Salvador approximately 35 minutes later, we tried navigating the Sim card situation. I footed the bill because everyone else had not brought their ID. In the end, my phone was the only one that would not accept the "semi-legal" switch. Our plan was to put local Sim cards in our cellphones. This would give us a local Salvadoran number and we could buy a pay as you go plan to enable our phones to make local calls. My snappy Blackberry screen, immediately told I had an illegal Sim Card implanted in my phone. I new that this would lead to some kind of god-awful roaming charges or something. I am still negotiating with one of my fellows to buy my new Sim card from me at the going rate. Oh, well. We grabbed a quick bite at a Churrasco restaurant that I had found with Michele before going to the upper city.

We took the gondola to the upper city with our list of errands to accomplish before descending to catch a bus to Vitoria a short ride away. I had an address and directions to Mestre Moraes Capoeira studio. Rahul's main errand was to purchase a Berimbau; a professional model, not a lame tourist version. We walked in clumps, Rahul and I in front leading the way, and the others just behind in sharing conversations and photo ops. We walked across the main square towards the former site of the actual Pelourinho to find, "Ladeira do Carmo"-The Hill of Carmo; another neighborhood just west of the historic district. I asked twice to make sure I was on the correct path as we descended down from the Pelourinho and up the steep hill towards Carmo. Halfway up the hill we came to a worn but beautiful church on our left with a long stone stair and two towers. Up ahead their was another church and the Office for Historic Preservation of the district.

Rahul was getting anxious, and kept at me to see if we were on the right path. I assured him that we were set. He told me of how he likes to collect traditional folkloric instruments when he travels, learning to play them and including them in his recordings. On fellowship near Osaka, Japan a few years previous, he went in search of a artisan made Shakuhachi flute. He was directed to the wrong train track and rode 300 miles out of his way. I now understood the root of his anxiety. To placate him, I walked into the courtyard of the Convent-Pousada-Museum at the top of the hill. A weird triumvirate, but the right place to ask directions. We were on track.
I turned around to signal the group, assuming that they too were anxious. I realized that we were alone. They were nowhere in sight. I had been so focused on our path, I had not checked on their status. Behind us, the hill had two forks. If they were following us, they would eventually track us down; but I felt that they were long gone. I laughed, since I had my prominent mop of hair and a fire engine red shirt on, Rahul was the only Indian subcontinent type for miles and he also was wearing striking colors. Oh, shit. I am the one who knew the way. I reflected that Lauri had been to Salvador before, and that this might be a wonderful opportunity for Hannah and Nathan to try out their nascent Portuguese. And away we went.

I began to fall in love with the worn seedy quality of these narrow streets and buildings. The neighborhood was relatively quiet with few pedestrians in sight. Here and there we spotted a pickup card game around a folding table in a shady spot, or a grandmotherly type wistfully staring out of her second floor window at nothing in particular. The buildings were full of character and in general need of repair. The urchin boys actually looked gaunt as opposed to some of those who frequented the Pelourinho. And we kept trudging forward. We came to a rotary with a 20 foot tiled tower, shaped like Big Ben, with glass and no clock embedded at the apex. I mused to Rahul, "Hmm-Had it been gaslit, was it an old watchtower? But, there was no apparent way to get inside of it." this was an odd sliver of a neighborhood. Many signs for Rooms to Let, funked out Pousadas, seamstresses, junk shops or Delicatessens.

The road coursed uphill again, as we passed another gondola I had not known about. I sensed that this is how Pelourinho had seemed twenty years ago. As long as I assured Rahul that we were on the right path, he stayed calm. I could see that the road was heading toward a cul de sac. I was anxious that in fact we had missed a turn. On our left was a majestic view of the bay froma vantage point I had not previously seen. I began to realize that this must have been the neighborhood that I had tried to locate with Michele. The neighborhood that was home to some of the contacts that I had been given back in NYC. Particularly two key Capoeira masters and a historian. Reaching the circle, we found a street vendor running a sausage cart with her husband and young son. I asked again, and she pointed across the way to a chalk white fortress shrouded in palms. At the center of the circle was a crop of trees shading half a dozen pre-teen street boys, who looked like they could be trouble after dark. At six o'clock position of the circle, there was an esplanade to fully engage the view, and a partially completed nineteenth century Cathedral at high noon. I had read that if the colonial Portuguese community did not complete a church or public building they did not have to pay taxes to the crown. I guessed that this had been the reality for this church.

We walked up to the fort and found a long stone archway behind a half open thick wooden door. The archway opened up into a central square, where an attractive young woman had a folding table and some brochures. A few lanky security guards in red and black uniforms stood nonchalantly nearby. All of the buildings were built of white stone with white walls two feet thick, and red ceramic roofs. This former colonial fortress had been turned into a major Capoeira studio and performance space, by Mestre Moraes; one of the Capoeristas I had been told to look up. We were pointed to the far building on our right, and walked in out of the bright sun to hopefully find Rahul's instrument. The room was cool, sweet smelling, with filtered natural light accented by one or two piercing beams of bright sunlight from the window facing south. In the corner were two teenage boys, one round and brown and squat with afro and a tambourine. The other gangly with rattan colored skin and coarse short hair. He was strumming a Berimbau. A auburn haired woman with a gymnasts frame was opposite them, assembling more instruments when we entered. Periodically, she corrected their notes and rhythms.

I translated for Rahul, and then went over to listen to the boys play while she picked out a Berimbau for him to look at. He called me back after a few moments when they expended the few bridge words that they could share. A Berimbau is a one stringed instrument made from a bowed pole of wood, (traditionally from the Beriba tree), a calabash and taught wire string. It is strummed with a whittled wooden stick identical to those used in Candomble ceremonies and a black stone positioned like the frets of a guitar. The player moves the instrument against and away from their chests to change the resonance of the notes, while strumming the string. I had previously known that the Berimbau a drummer and some percussionists accompanied the Capoeiraistas during training and performances, or Rodas (Ho-Dahs). What I hadn't known is that there were always three Berimbau played together, A Gunga or Bass, A Berra-Boi, Medio or Tenor and a Viola or Soprano. It is thought to have been developed by 19th century Afro-Brazilian slaves.

The woman, who was also the assistant master of the school had pulled out a Medio for Rahul. She was teaching him how to armar, or assemble and disassemble it. He was ready to pull out his money, when he overheard the two boys playing across the room. He asked them to come closer to him. Suddenly, he changed his tone, and told me that possibly she was selling him an inferior instrument, or at least one different than theirs. That was the moment that I realized that they were playing a Gunga and he had a Medio. She decided that he needed a lesson. First she played a Medio, then she had the young teen play his Gunga, with his pal on tambourine.

Then they joined forces, playing and singing together. It was worth the price of uphill trek. I was completely sated. Rahul vacillated between the tonal variations of the calabash. I suggested that since you can put them together, or disassemble them within ten minutes, that he buy both. In the end, he agreed. He joined their group, learning the simple fingering; which alternated two strokes below and three above the stone, while moving the resonating calabash onto or away from your chest. She told him to wait for awhile before he tried to add voice to the rhythm. It is not as simple to play as it looks. He ended up buying a carrying case, the two calabash, the beriba pole, two strings, two different strumming sticks of different woods one high pitched and the other low, and a woven straw caxixe rattle for $68.00 reals. A steal!

We thanked them and reversed our steps, hoping to encounter our homeys along the way. I bought the two books I needed for research and we headed for the gondola, the art store and the ferry home. We had lost our window of opportunity to check out the museum. Now winded, I needed a pickmeup. We stopped for a Beiju or Manioc Crepe in the Praca da Se . Mine had coconut and white cheese, his Coconut and sugar. I took pictures of Conceca, "Mais, voce pode chamar-me Ceca." As we wolfed them down, I told Rahul that this snack might have cost us our art supply shopping time.

We jogged to the gondola and got to the alley of art supply stores as all of the gates were being pulled closed when the New Yorker in me wormed inside one of the accordion gates as it slid down its track. The man operating the chain from the street looked disgruntled, but the cashier told me that if I was quick she would serve me. Rahul needed some special art paper. Lost in translation, it turned out I had misunderstood his English. He did need paper, but they type he needed was not available here. Shit. I needed typing paper, though not right now. I decided I had to to buy my paper, since they had accommodated us. We walked the five blocks to the ferry, and found our friends boarding the same boat. They had split up, after we separated, with Lauri going off on her own to catch some of the photo exhibits up for the August spotlight on photography around town. She was already on the island, waiting at the dock for our boat to arrive. I was shooting random experimental images while the others talked over their exploits. Just as we came to port a kind faced middle aged man asked me if we were going to Quinta Pitanga, the original name of the former girl's school, before Sacatar took it over. Having noticed our art supplies and motley nature, he suggested that he could drop us off in his cab, parked near the dock. It was both fortuitous and comical. He seemed to have acquired a selection of CD's appropriate for all types of locals and tourists, reflecting the music of their homelands. Aussie Nathan got the Bee Gees, and Rahul hummed to himself while the Americans echoed the chorus of I Will Survive, among other disco hits. It had all worked out.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Sunday 24-August

Mae Stella, garbed in her white dress and head wrap was on the porch coming up for air around 12:40 AM after the ceremony, talking to random congregants and smokers. She drifted back in the side entrance, past the drying goat skins to thank us for coming; and let me know that if I was interested, she-they would be making a meal for Oxumare's birthday the following afternoon. "Voce pode chegar depois do deis horas; ta bom?" I was down. Lauri and Nathan had video taped the ceremony, and Lauri said she was game for more. Somewhere between 10:40-11:15 on Sunday we trekked over the rutted road behind Sacatar, and up the steep hill to the terreiro. Perennially anxious that I might miss something, I was in a hurry to get inside. When we walked into the ceremonial room, half of her lieutenant's from last night were dozing on straw mats laid out on the floor. They were all huddled together as though we were in a northern clime and they needed each other's body heat to keep warm. I quietly, I thought that we had rushed for nothing. I watched them come slowly to wakefulness, play tricks with each other, whispering and laughing amongst themselves. Augusto arrived soon afterwards, with his young buddy, Mateus. We sat together and discussing last night's festivities here and at the Festa da Sao Roque.

Out back, the Mae who had been mounted by Nana was working with Simon to prepare the Cozido. They told us that they had been braising the meats and temperos for two hours. Periodically, one of them would check the glowing charcoal under the brazier, while the other poked the different cuts of pork and beef to assess their timing. Unlike the stews that I am used to at home and in professional kitchens, these meats were not cooked until the meats fell from their bones. They were left with a bite that caused every eater to be forced to gnaw a bit, and accept their carnivorous nature. Possibly the Carne Salgado, or salted meat introduced by the colonial Portuguese never became fully tender unless it was soaked for long periods, with frequent water changes. Like salt cod it tended to have a toothy mouth feel, from the process of salting and sun drying. Whichever the reason, it was closer to rawhide than velvet. The salting added an intensity of flavor to the caldo or broth, something essential for a dish as old as slavery, that generally had good flavor and very small amounts of actual flesh. Approximately, forty five minutes after we arrived, some chickens were added to the pot. In between, the stirrings, we walked inside to keep a pulse with the crew. Lauri jumped on her video cam, and I gave her space and a clear field to shoot. Mae Stella came and went, moving between the backyard, the ceremony room and her bedroom. I assumed that she was somewhat drained from last night. She was quieter and more reserved today.

I went to the street for air, and began chatting with one of her assistants and her "lover(?)" who had dropped by. Young children and the tweenage apprentices ran in and out of the house full of pent up energy. I heard noises from the front room, and then the stereo was cranked up. Like teen homegirls after the latest Teddy Pendergrass or Luther single, all of the devotees rose from their nests and went to dance ecstatically to a series of songs about Oxum. I appreciated the honeyed melody and I poked my head in to watch. One of the women, who had screeched with joy when I arrived last night, was dancing and sucking her thumb. They played a few tunes over and over again, until someone switched the disc to Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff. This Germanic choral classic, though also quite inspirational, is quite a mood wrecker relative to their current playlist. Everyone was now all up and about. I watched as the women took turns brushing out their hair, primping, giggling and gossiping amongst themselves. The one man, yesterday's whittler, ran to and fro with a devilish grin and a bawdy laugh. Everything seemed to fit into the vibe of a lazy Sunday at home.

Returning to watch the yard I shot some pictures of the cook's quartering heads of cabbage to set into the Cozido as a buffer between the simmering meats and all of the vegetables that were now being added. First the hardiest root vegetables were added, peeled but whole: Iame, Cebolla, Manioc and Batata Doce. Fifteen minutes or so later, the ropey rusty colored Calabresa sausages were delicately removed from the pot with a long cooking fork. Then more vegetables were added. First came Cenoura, Xuxu and Obobora; (carrot, chayote & calabash). Finally twenty minutes later, she added the Quiabo (okra) and Tomates. The vegetables were gently pressed down, so that they were swimming in the rich broth while the fire was carefully tended to stay just at a simmer, to keep the bubbling liquid from upsetting the meticulous arrangement that had just been created. They told me that everything would be ready within an hour. I walked back to the front room and sat on the sofa, absorbed in the activities, dancing and making pretty of the devotees.

There, I noticed that the woman, who had been so shy yesterday, had finished combing her own hair and had called a young girl to have her hair brushed and combed. I photographed them together and then asked the woman, if this was her child. She replied, yes; she was her daughter. "How old is she," I inquired. "Ela tem cinco anhos." (--She is five). "Oh, ok, e quantos anhos tem voce?" I continued." She spoke quietly and quickly bending over the child, her words were garbled to my ear. I thought that she had said Trinta, or 30. But, there was something more. I asked her to repeat herself. Again, I heard "Trinta, {..............?}" Questioning her response, I replied: " Voce me disse trinta. Trinta anhos?" "Nao, dias. Eu tenho trinta dias." I repeated this response to myself, checking my vocabulary. Now sure of what I had heard, I repeated, "Trinta dias. Voce tem trinta dias? Como sera posivel--Um mez?" 30 days, Did you say 30 days, How is that possible,-- One month? She giggled, then rejoined, "Agora tem um anho! Sim umo."....... "Ok". I said to myself. "What is going on? First she says one month and now one year. I sat for a moment, to absorb her staement and my impression of her true age. Bewildered, I went to the back to look at the Cozido and ask Augusto.

He and Lauri were sitting and chatting with Mae Stella. Some new congregants arrived and prostrated themselves at her feet. I used this opportunity to pull Augusto aside and explain my recent conversation. Immediately, he asked, "Who were you speaking with?" I began to describe the woman, her dress,--"No!" He stopped me. "I mean, were you talking to the woman or to the Orixa?" I said, "What, do you mean?" He began, "Well it sounds like you just met the Orixa that has mounted her in their child state." "I, what?" I asked Lauri if she followed his logic. She interjected that she had been seeing and filming odd reactions and dialogues between the different congregants. I looked hard at Augusto, and walked to the backyard perplexed. By now, the vegetables were all tender and slightly al dente. Each variety was placed in its own ceramic bowl. The meat were removed, and the two women began to prepare the Pirao. An interesting distinction between this stew and those I have made or sampled is that the broth is drained and used to cook a mush made of Manioc Flour. Thus, there is no liquid to the "stew", and a starchy rich mash is added to each portion. Still thinking about my conversations with the woman, and Augusto I sat back to think while the cook's carried all of the ingredients into the kitchen.

By now, it was close to 3:00 PM, and everyone was anxious to eat. The backyard was cleaned, swept and mopped by the diligent cooks while the finishes were put to the Cozido by Mae Stella. Everyone was seated around the periphery of the ceremonial room, sitting patiently. Two or three plates at a time, Mae Stella brought out the Cozido, serving the youngest children first. The advent of the meal had caused all of her lieutenant's to sit between the straw mats crosslegged, whining for food. She brought out one plate, and began dangling a piece of bacon, a link of sausage or vegetable in the air as each hungry devotee clamored for their piece. If I didn't know better I would say that she was feeding caged animals or toddlers. As they each received a morsel from her plate they cooed, and showed their prize to their neighbors before devouring it in a bite. She returned to the kitchen and brought out a plate for each one. They howled with ecstasy. Once they had been fed, the cook's helped her divvy out plates to all of the remaining guests. We all ate noisily, with a few asking for seconds. Once the meal was finished, Mae seemed drowsy, her chin dropped briefly to her chest, before she rose and quickly disappeared to her bedroom.

Five minutes later she returned in a new outfit of red checked pedal pushers, a smocky shirt and matching cap. Two steps into the room, and everyone cried for joy. She screamed, "Doces, refrescantes; estou com sede!" Hmm, I thought. She ran out the room, animated and agitated until she saw me in the corner. Pleading and whining, "What did I have for a present? Did I bring sweets? Where were they? Did I have soda..? Get it now!" I turned to Augusto, he said, "You remembered last night's promise, right?" I replied, "Yes, I gave them a large bottle of Guarana when we arrived." "Go. Get it now. She wants it." I ran up the six steps to the kitchen, and ask the cooks who were still cleaning up. They looked nervously at me, then said, " We have already served it." One turned to the other, then reached up to the thin shelf near the window for a key. She quickly opened the house of the Oxumare off of the kitchen and came back with a 2 Liter bottle of Coke, and said, "Aqui, pode dar este a ele." I took it, and went back down the stairs. Wait, she said, "I could give it to H-I-M.(?)" Mae saw me coming and jumped up and down, laughing and grabbing for my soda. She took it, opened it and guzzled a hearty gulp. Burping, she told me that I had done well. I sat down, looking first at Lauri and then at Augusto.

All the dynamics changed abruptly. My buddy from yesterday, the large older Mae who had made me coffee, came running in, not in her white Baianan dress, but in a scarlet shift, tied at the waist with a matching headwrap. She cackled loudly and jumped from the stairs onto the cement floor. Everyone screamed for joy. First sucking on her thumb she settled near her cohorts, occasionally shouting and laughing loudly. They followed her lead, bobbing up and down, in anticipation of I don't know what. Then, the one young man came in with a canary yellow outfit, similar to Mae Stella's. He ran toward his friends, sliding into the mat like a homerun slugger. Next, Mae or whoever she was was at the top of the stair with a bag in each hand. "Doces! TENHO Doces!. Quem estao com fome pra doces? Sweets, I HAVE Candy. Who is hungry for sweets? Her group started barking and screaming like wild dogs. They gathered in the center of the room, over the Fundamento, jumping and jostling each other for space. At first one by one, and then in fistfuls she threw out hard candies and sweet treats, waiting after each feeding to see who had run fastest to catch the booty and fight for the few pieces skittering to the corners. The young children were out classed and disorientated. Augusto turned to us, and whispered, "NOW, do you see?" Lauri said, "I have seen it all. I thought I had seen something last night, but this is wilder than any possession." "OK, look", he said. "Oxumare has mounted her. It is his birthday. He is a man, and his favorite food is sweets. He is impetuous like a child. He brings out the youthful Orixa in all of the initiates." As he explained the scene more candy was thrown round, some landing in our laps. We had to grab and hide it before someone else came to snatch it. Every so often Oxumare/Mae made a point of making sure that the children had received their due.

We were now in fult tilt boogie. The children and possessed adult/kidlings ran and shouted, aped childlike behavior, teased one another; but honored anything that Oxumare said or did. Tired of his game, Oxumare came over and asked Augusto if he would hold onto the remaining candy for her. He smiled and nodded in agreement. She turned, ran to tap on the drums, then began galloping, dancing around the room. Once her back was turned the young man in yellow came over and tried to take her candy. Defiantly, he reached into Augusto's lap, shouting, "This was mine. I am taking it, now." Augusto looked into his eyes, paused before saying, "Why don't we ask Mae?" He called out, Mae, Ox-u," when she turned toward us, ran over and pushed yellow-man out the way. "This is mine. Leave now!" He abuptly ran away. Moment's later, one of the thumb sucking devotees, was fully mounted, crouched down and bellowed just like last night. Her face and hands became animated as she rose up growling and scampering in circles. Now coaxing and prodding the mounted woman, the room quieted; as the others began to be mounted more forcefully. This time, each one was removed from the scene resurfacing shortly as their child persona.

Once things simmered down, we decided to leave. Mae came toward us, acting as if this was just another day back at the ranch. She asked me if I had enjoyed the Cozido and had tasted last night's Olubaje? I nodded affirmatively. As she invited me to return tomorrow at five for another ceremony, the woman who had been forcefully mounted walked up, with her left thumb in her mouth. Her right hand was full of popcorn. She looked deep into my eyes as she opened my right hand with her moist one. She opened her right hand, letting the popcorn cascade into my palm. She folded my hand into a fist, with both of her hands. Softly, she whispered a phrase or song, then opened my hand and closed it three times, repeating the phrase. As she finished, she looked up at me, for acknowledgment. Obviously still flummoxed, Augusto interjected, "She is giving you a blessing. You must keep the popcorn for three days and then toss it in the ocean. Show her that you understand." I nodded, and tightened my fist. We hugged and kissed Mae Stella, then thanked the cook's and said goodbye to the devotees, all now childlike once more.

Walking back to Sacatar, Lauri kept reiterating how we had seen so much more than what we had experienced in last night's ceremony. I agreed. There had been a subconscious level of expectation that came with the ritual, its costumes and the cover of night. Now, this seemingly innocent Sunday afternoon had opened up exploding into a waking dream or a somehow sober acid trip. There was a lot to learn.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Em frente, em frente vou chegar com algo quente!

8:30 AM. The moto-taxi had just dropped me off, and I was still a bit sluggish. I hadn't had breakfast and I was not quite coffee'd up.

I walked into the terreiro, and Mae Stella immediately began to provide me with a little bit of her background and describe the dishes she would be making for the Olu Baje. She generally begins to prepare for a ceremony two weeks ahead. She has four major ceremonies to prepare for each year in her terreiro. But, she has daily and weekly obligations that are essential to maintaining the terreiro. She is often called to other terreiro's to function as a Mae de Santo channeling Orixa's just as her colleague will do for her this evening. She and the other Mae de Santo will both function as Omulu, while the third Mae will receive Oxum. She now only has one spiritual godparent, her Pai de Santo. Recently, she lost her Mae de Santo. She has completed her training and is a full Mae de Santo, so the apprenticeship has been completed. The relationship is still very nurturing. She said that she will be sad to when she loses her Pai. Now she has godchildren that she is tutoring, so the cycle continues. She began her spiritual practice by initiating after her ninth birthday in 1971.

Her culinary preparation sourcing all of the necessary foods, focusing on all of the items that require special care. She smokes and dries her own shrimp to use in her "temperos" or spice mixture. Ideally, she prefers to smoke the shrimp with Canela or Cinnamon bark. Animals for sacrifice need to obtained, killed, skinned and processed. Skins and certain parts have to be dried to be used within the ceremony. Herbs for the Orixa need to be picked or obtained. When there is time she likes to pick and dry all of her own herbs. Certain leaves and branches need to be found just before the ceremony. Green branches of Pitanga, Changeiro and Fafeio need to be cut from the trees and whittled for drumsticks. Finally, cleaning and slicing of coconuts, boiling eggs, roasting peanuts and cashews, cleansing and blessing the terreiro will all take time. Giggling a bit, she tells me that in her younger years, she fished for the shrimp herself, instead of buying it from the fishermen or at the market. Pointing to the five gallon tin can in the corner, she said that for many many years, she used to gather her own palm fruit and press the oil. Everything had to be just so.
In preparing the meal Mae Stella must consider foods that will appeal to each Orixa, knowing that they all have foods that they prefer. She gave me a few examples. Xango and Iansa like quiabo or okra. "Oxum pega fraginho"; she loves beans. Iemenja loves rice, Oxumare will need a salad of cucumbers, lettuce, xuxu or chayote, cenoura/carrots and banana de terra (similar, but not equivalent to our plantain) and Omulu loves popcorn. As a blessing devotees are ceremonially washed in popcorn, which was said to have removed the pustules and scars from Omulu's body. I listen, shooting pictures while she speaks. I look in the sitting room up front. One of the younger woman has put down her knife and is dancing. I try to snap her picture she blushes, giggles turns away, covering her face with her hands. Her cohorts, hiss, "Pesquisas!- Nao se preocupe; Ele esta fazendo pesquisas." Research, don't worry, he is alright. She continues to laugh and blush.

Meanwhile, Mae Stella continues sharing her story and prep list with me, as she cooks a corn mush made from ground dried white corn and water. Once it is quite thick, she will cool it slightly, form into a pyramid and then wrap it in banana leaves to be shaped for an offering. In the end each form will be peeled, the leaves discarded and the Acaca will be placed on top of every dish prepared for the Orixa. Once the cooking is done, she will have to receive Omulu and perform in the ceremony, channeling the Orixa and dancing late into the night. Tomorrow morning, after the Olu Baje she will lead the preparation for Oxumare's birthday. He loves sweets, so I have been asked to bring soda, juice or candy for him tomorrow.I The ritual meal will be a Cozido. I had learned in Cachoeira that Cozido was a symbolic meal served by the Senhoras to symbolize the food regularly eaten by the African slaves. The parallels between home foods, historic or symbolic foods that reference the colonial period and ritual dishes prepared for ceremony is quite unique.

The only job given to a man is the gathering of leaves and branches, the whittling of drumsticks and the preparation of the instruments to be played at the service. The shirtless young man, enters the kitchen carrying his catch. He is nineteen-ish, has on rough cotton drawstring pants, a baseball cap turned sideways, a lovely jute and beaded necklace and ankle bracelets. He shoots me a homeboy smile, an air five and begins to titter and giggle. He addresses Mae Stella, with a quick embrace, pecking at her cheeks. Setting his load down, he sits cross legged on the floor and begins to whittle. He sees me jotting notes on my pad and turns towards me to explain his work. Abuptly, in the middle of his story, he stops, looks me in the eye and asks me if I am a gringo? I look a bit puzzled, hesitate trying to think of what sparked his query. "Nao." I answer slowly, "Americano do Norte, e preto come voce." He looks satisfied, turns to his saplings and finishes whittling the drumsticks

Walking back and forth through this terreiro I am continually inspired by the purposefulness put to each task. Each of the ten women and three apprentices are acutely focused on their respective tasks. The ceremonial room is redolent of the musky rich smell of the simmered goat; almost off putting since it was not skinned before being cooked. For hours the woman entrusted to prepare this meat, scrapes sinew and tendon, separating it from bone and flesh. Each ingredient is placed in separate ceramic bowls. For different periods of time the dishes are placed on the roof of the terreiro, I assume to signal the appropriate Orixa of its pending inclusion in the Olu Baje. Sand is heated over a high flame in a large stock pot. A winnowing basket is set in a large bowl and placed near the hot pot. Popping corn is added to the hot pot and then it is quickly covered. The pot is struck three or four times in rapid succession to coerce the corn to do its work. Without any fat, it is popped quickly, and drained through the winnowing basket. The sand is sifted from the corn and returned to the pot to begin the cycle over again. The nuts had been previously roasted in the same fashion. Frequently, she stops, puts down her cigarette or coffee cup, takes a deep breathe, surveying the food production or a finished dish and proclaims, "Esta Linda!" She smiles until the dimples show, reflecting her passion and devotion to her cooking and spiritual practice.

Just before I leave for my nap between the food preparation and the service she calls me to come follow her into the Orixa's chamber as she begins to decorate it with mimoca leaves and some of the dishes that she has been preparing. Before she begins to decorate the room, she removes a small ceramic dish that held chicken hearts and leaves it by the dish drain near the sink. Returning to this small room, filled with figurines, jars, ritual objects and flowers, she reaches into another small bowl containing a few cowrie shells. She throws them three times, looks around the room quite contently and happily says, "Bom." She finishes decorating the room with the mimoca leaves, pulls out a key from her bosom and quickly closes and locks the door. Back in the kitchen she taps each drum, running a quick melody over the skin to see if they are in tune. I watch her, and listen to one of the women in the corner finish her lunch break by cracking the chicken bones with her molars so that she can suck out the marrow. As I walk to the door, someone is cutting flowers for another offering and Mae Stella is calling Lucas to bring her a hammer so that she and one of the other Mae's can string a plastic tarp in the backyard in case this rain continues into the night. I hear her cry out, she has whacked her thumb and not the nail.

Itaparica: Healing waters, Caboclo, 95 & counting

Na sexta passada nos fizemos um turne sobre na ilha Itaparica.

As part of our orientation to Sacatar we were taken on a onibus tour of the island by Augusto, the programming director. Prior to this tour we had had a snapshot trek through the historic district of Salvador, including Cidade Baixa and Alta, O Pelourinho, or the Pillory and a few areas to purchase art supplies and sundries. Now we would have a full day's exploration of Itaparica. Our first stop was Ponto d'Areia. We passed the beach and restaurant where Michele and I had spent the day, drawing with the kids, eating freshly caught fish and Blanca's mother's coconut cocadas. Augusto had a great delivery, a bit of a dry wit and just enough history or backstory to fill in the necessary gaps.

We arrived in the village of Amenoeira to see the Terreiro, de Lidio, who goes by the name of Bui. The first glimpse of Candomble for the majority of our crew. Set back from the road, the terreiro extended all the way to the ocean, with two story homes along the eastern side of the compound. We entered through a brick archway. Three tall ceramic jugs were cemented into the top of the arch. A ladder leaned into the wall and a man was adding another layer of mortar to the structure. Just inside the archway was a tableau that included Exu, (Eleggba in Nigeria, or the Orixa guardian of the crossroads; and Preto Velho, the Orixa named Old Black Man,(a symbol of wise, old slave full of wisdom and healing). Our guide was the grandson of the Pai de Santo. The courtyard was anchored by a round stone pedestal that supported a welded sculpture of a power figure. Underneath the apartments on the second floors were the houses of each individual Orixa, all locked tight. Most sported an emblematic piece of dried animal hide, a piece of bird's skeleton, or sun-dried caul fat. Remnants of past sacrifices and I assume power conductors for the Orixa. We were not allowed into the initiation chambers. Everything else was openly displayed and photos were permitted. This was exceptional; a rarity.

Their main ceremony room at once mirrored the others that I had seen, in that it was square, albeit much larger than most, with the central tile and streamers hanging from the ceiling. All the surfaces were covered in stone tile. Facing the entrance way was a raised stone platform with a three large black ceramic figurines . These figurines complimented more than one dozen others ringing perimeter of the room and dressed to represent all of the Orixa. I tried to identify the few that I knew. Augusto interrupted my self quiz with a few choice Orixa legends that offered concise clues to their identities.
We continued back, walking into a recently constructed room that Augusto had never seen. It was a Caboclo Sanctuary. The Caboclo spiritual practice was uniquely Brazilian. It identified Gods or spirits that were Indian in nature. I guessed that the dancers I had photographed in front of the Irmandade last weekend must have been followers of the Caboclo tradition. This room, smaller than the first had crisscrossing banners of the Brazilian flag draped from the ceiling. We were told that this was a signifier of the roots of the practice. The altar area had a figure who was surrounded by food offerings, Obobora,( a local Calabash/Squash), ceramic vases and other symbolic objects.
Next we ventured beyond the buildings down into the yard that touched the sea. Around specific trees and plants we found small firepits stradled by ironwork sculptures signifying each Orixa. A variety of offerings surrounded each designated area. Every tree or bush held a specific relationship for each Orixa. Off to the left I saw the Iroko tree, that Jane, a visiting Sacatar fellow, had described at lunch. She had related to us that here in the new world Strangler Figs were often confused with Iroko. According to legend they were only trees who grew from the heavens to the ground, as opposed to the others who sprout in the earth and climb to heaven. Botanically they both begin by having their seeds sprout in the crotches and boughs of host trees. Ultimately, they strangle the host, growing around the trunk and branches often creating a large hollow room where the original tree had stood. Jane had researched and written about these trees when she had lived on the island. Once again, I had received information just before I needed to understand its relevance within the cosmology of this environment. Walking back up the hillside, someone asked me to translate their question to our guide, "Wasn't it difficult, hard work to build and maintain the terreiro, raise a family, pay the bills and survive?" "Yes, it is work," was his oblique reply.

A short distance down the road we stopped in the central square to greet a local political candidate, whose beauty and physique stunned our female companions. Augusto explained that he also administered a youth program, Nova Terra in Mar Grande. If there was time, we would tour their facility. He encouraged us to drop in and view the children's folkloric presentation this afternoon. As he walked off, Augusto saw Don Alvaro Florencio da Concecao, (Senhor Alvinho). Three times elected to the Town Council, and now the resident historian at ninety five. His skin still somewhat taught seemed to be two sizes to big with folds of wrinkles accumulating at each joint. His eyeglasses were nearly Coke bottle thick, his weathered, aged speckled hands rested on a carved wooden cane and a red and white MacDonald's cap shielded his face from the strong sun. We listened for a good half hour, as Sr. Alvinho related vignettes of Itaparica, the mineral springs, the healing waters, experimental artists like the musician Walter Smetak and other former residents. Augusto whispered that he wanted to interview him and create a film or video for the town archives. He had had five children, two were still alive. He could not remember how many grands, great and great greats he had. Augusto asked him to begin the story of Venceslaus for us. His mind still sharp, he truly carried a library on his shoulders. With a grin, he joked about how spry he still was as we bade him farewell.

We stopped on a beach to see the remains of a large brick whale oven that now had a large tree growing through the foundations. The early whalers had cooked the meat, and extracted oil from the carcasses. The bones were used to make the same mortar that the Algonquins had taught the Pilgrims to make from oyster shell. We drove a few miles until we arrived at a large field. Tethered at one end were several cocks, scarred from previous battles. Instead of parking we drove across it arriving at a small thatched pavilion commemorating Venceslaus Monteiro Parque, and asking all guests to be silent and respectful of nature. The miracle of Venceslaus implies that in a series of dreams he was led to a pool deep in the park. Bathing his face in the waters, cured him of blindness. He lived in the park for the rest of his life, leaving under duress and dying immediately afterwards. Senhor Concecao had know Vencelaus, and confirmed the tale. We entered the park and walked one quarter mile or so, through tropical forest and wild flowers to a clearing. There was a small stone house and sanctuary shaped like a beehive oven. At the edge of the clearing was the famous pool. Augusto had his own story of an innocent friend who had come in for a nature walk not knowing of the power of the waters. He had received his own cure, as adolescent scars from scarlet fever disappeared soon after bathing in the pool. Augusto had not known of his scars and was surprised to see the changes in his friends body.

We all took turns washing our hands and faces in the waters, sitting for a time in personal reflection. Rahul's rich baritone voiced a lament, evolving to an emotional crescendo Gospel-like with hope and promise. I cried for my mother and for joy. Rahul then shared with us that he had chosen one of the Baul prophet Lalon Shais songs. An ode to Atma, (the bird or soul living inside our body or its cage). "You must protect Atma from danger, lest he fly away and your soul is lost." Lalon's song asked, "Does our conscious mind control Atma, the bird-soul, or does our bird-soul control our consciousness. He sang this in empathy for Venceslaus.


When the forest is on fire
the cabin does not burn.
With his bow and arrow
the Caboclo is not afraid of anything!
There where the nightingale sings,
there where the moon shines,
there where my guide stays,
glittering star.
With Oxala's permission
I saw a Caboclo arrive.
He joins in our dance,
the Caboclo warrior,
A red cross in his hand!

*excerpted from: Macumba, The Teachings of Maria-Jose; Mother of the Gods

Sao Roque, Mae Stella & Olu Baje

Saturday, our first weekend on island, 23-Aug.

This first week had already been quite full and it was barely half over. In addition to our two tours, we had had a midweek visit from Orlan, a French performance artist the same generation as Yoko. She was famous or infamous for her Feminist manifestos and the body modifications she had had done to herself via plastic surgery. Orlan seemed to question western ideas of beauty and position of women in society. She had come for lunch with her young husband, documentor and translator and their liaison from the Alliance Francaise. On Thursday evening after our brief tour of the old city we went to hear her intone her theories at MAM, the Salvadoran modern art museum. Stopping for a fast dinner, and catching the last ferry to the island, our culture excursion ended at almost 2:00 AM.

Friday at lunch, Augusto informed us that he would be attending a festa to Sao Roque and a Olu Baje ceremony on Saturday at seven o'clock in the evening. San Roque, St. Lazarus in English was a French saint who saved his community from the plague. The Olu Baje is the public ceremony centered on the ritual meal in honor of Omulu, the Orixa who was depicted with a head to toe straw covering. The legend is that he was born with open wounds and pustules which left him horribly ugly, his skin pocked and scarred. He was the Orixa of the poor, he governs disease, pestilence and healing. Augusto was willing to escort anyone interested in joining him. He explained that the this was an opportunity to witness the synchretic nature of Catholicism and Candomble. These two ceremonies back to back would illustrate how much the dialogue went back and forth between each discipline. I was game. Most of us were. I stayed close to home Friday night, but was struck with insomnia, so sleep was fruitless. I was summoned to the phone at 8:15 Saturday morning, just after I had come out in search of coffee, attempting to reverse the effects of my sleepless night. Augusto happened to drop by the terreiro where the Olu Baje, and Mae Stella their Mae de Santo was willing to allow me interview her and observe her prepare the Comida de Santo to accompany the evening service. He had just arranged one of the motor-taxis to pick me up. They would be arriving at Sacatar within 10 minutes. "Could I be ready?"

--"Yes. But shit, I was whumped." I thought, This is what I came for. Two minutes later he called again. "You must wear all white, and long pants." I knew that already. I made sure that I had my camera battery and a pad, grabbed coffee a banana and headed for the front gate.
Ten minutes later I was led into the terreiro where Simon, an attractive young woman in a pink shift introduced me to her Mae; Stella, two other Mae's who had come to help and various other congregants. All of the women were dressed in white dresses with white wrappers over their clothing.I parked myself in the corner pulled out my pad and began to take notes. Augusto was gone. Two minutes into the interview, Mae Stella suggested that I take pictures if I had a camera. Damn-straight. Another coup. We were off and running. I struggled to comprehend her Portuguese, it was not as polished as Augusto's or Luis's. Mae Stella rattled off her method while pureeing shaved coconut, peanuts, cashews and dried smoked shrimp for the Vatapa.

A middle aged woman, still shapely and attractive though missing most of her front teeth on both top and bottom of her mouth. She worked quickly, with a long agenda of tasks to complete before nightfall. She indicated that she had been working for two weeks to prepare for the Olu Baje. Olu Baje is the I learned that this was a typical pattern for all of the ceremonies. She said that before she had access to a blender it took her even longer, crushing all of the ingredients in the tall mortar and pestles that typified plantation life. We laughed at the reality of grinding all of the ingredients by hand. Still she had had to smoke and dry the shrimp, find animals for sacrifice, and fulfill many other duties. The two goat skins were drying just outside her kitchen window. Hours later, I found the entrails of a recently killed duck and chicken suspended behind a beam out back. In the same backyard two of the women were cooking beans over charcoal braziers, fejioe fradginho, branco e preto-black-eyed peas, white and black beans. There was Caruru to make. Chicken to cook, plus abarra, bolhinos de milho, acaraje, salad, rice and goat. Production of Bolhinos de Aipim were already in process. Linens had to be pressed. Popcorn popped. The few tasks given to males were to whittle pitanga branches for drumsticks, gather three types of leaves, one of which would serve as plates for the food service, and Palm fronds for decor. She barked orders left and right, tasted every single item that was cooked, and made a variety of offerings to the Orixa throughout the day; an Executive Chef and Spiritual Leader rolled into one.

Their ceremonial room more closely mirrored Ligia's in Cachoeira. Concrete, set a few feet below the foundation of the main house. The main house had two bedrooms both furnished with two single beds. A cozy sitting room, small bathroom and a sizeable, yet simple kitchen. A room to Oxumare, their spiritual head was off of the kitchen. A cement counter ran along the length of the wall that the ceremonial room shared with the main house. The fundamento sat in the opposite corner and her throne was set in a niche on the wall catty corner to the fundamento. At either end of the wall shared with the house, there were narrow doorways which ultimately led out to the street. The backyard was a decent sized rectangle, possibly eight feet wide by fifteen long. There was a cistern in the corner filled with water for washing. There was another Orixa house in one corner, two covered sheds, A sacrificial fire pit and a covered drain leading to the town's sewer system. The central square in the ceremonial room had a three foot diameter ring of popcorn, three inches high. At one of the side doorways there were offerings to the Orixa, and a young woman sat on her haunches in the opposite corner scraping tendons and sinew from freshly boiled goat heads and feet. A few young neighborhood children ran in and out, observing the activity. Two young girls, possibly ten years old, also dressed in white quietly observed their elders at work. The next generation to be inducted into the terreiro. The next day, Mae Stella told me that the girls entered into service between 14-15 years of age. One of the older Mae's continued to wink at me, shooting me goo goo eyes like a teenager while she worked.

By eleven AM I was parched and starved. She saw my hung dog look and asked if I wanted coffee. Hesitating at first, I felt that I should not be indulged while they were so fast at work. Mae Stella asked again. This time, I jumped at the offer. A small silver tray was brought to me, with freshly brewed coffee an elegant dainty demitasse, docantes of Stevia and a small spoon. This brought a welcome reprieve until midday. In the meantime I walked between the kitchen activity, the careful processing of the goat and the preparation and cooking centers out back. Each woman completed their task deftly with a great sense of economy of motion and use of materials. Occasionally, the younger woman would take a break to gossip, giggle and rest. These moments were brief since Stella seemed to have eyes in every room. The only things consumed by anyone were cigarettes and coffee. Periodically a young comely boy ran up to me looked deeply into my eyes or at my camera and then ran quickly out of sight. This was Lucas, recently adopted by Mae Stella. A little bit of a hellion, but generally a harmless young boy. By about 1:30, he had been whining for food for at least ninety minutes. Finally Stella consented and one of the women offered him a dish of stewed chicken and rice. Seeing him eat made me want to keel over. They must have sensed my hunger. Within about twenty minutes, I had a place at the table and my own bowl of lunch. The chicken had a russet colored sauce or Molho, slightly vinegary with a flash of garlic and palm oil. The rice, cooked plain without salt, took to the rich sauce and the combination gave me back some vigor.

All of the women would complete a project and carefully clean all of their implements, sweep, mop and prepare for their next duty. Finally by 3:30, the cooking frenzy was winding down. One by one the women began to take individual plates of chicken and rice, while Mae Stella continued to intone orders to her charges. She continued at her fast clip for another ninety minutes before she too stopped for a bite of lunch. Now all of the counters were cleared and a variety of simple ceramic bowls were brought out to hold each prepared ritual dish. She debated with herself which vessel would best show off each dish, changing her mind several times, before commiting to the final arrangement. Their was a dish for each Orixa. Once her decisions had been finalized, most of the women began filling the various ceramic containers, while my goo goo eyed friend finished ironing lace. A large stack of freshly folded lace was brought into the room. Each dish was wrapped in lace, Mae Stella again stopped to decide which swatch was appropriate for which dish and corresponding Orixa. Next a large platter was brought out and she spent forty five minutes, laying on lace, tying bows at each end and then summoning my admirer to fill her platter with freshly popped corn and shards of coconut. Once it was full, she took thread and basted the lace to seal the popcorn and coconut tightly in this container until the ceremony. At this point, she suggested that I take a break, go home, rest and return around 7:30 PM. that evening. Glad for the reprieve, and tired of having to constantly recharge my nearly dead camera battery for the next, "money shot", I was glad to walk home to Sacatar, shower, rest and ready myself for the service. I could tell that it would be a long night.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Temples, Sunsets and Dorado Grelhado

Friday, na sexta Feira 22-August

Driving away from Venceslaus Park, we learned that the fame had become so great that jealousies brewed over the waters and the town had sued Venceslaus. Deciding to leave his sanctuary rather than create enmity, he died within days of his retreat from his forest home. Augusto also told us that the mineral springs of Itaparica had once been the center of a Spa. The spring was the only natural coastal mineral water source in the entire country. People had come for the cures. Today, townspeople gathered this pure water for drinking and cooking.It is the water we use at Sacatar.
We decided to break for lunch, hitting another "Por Peso" buffet restaurant. The owner, as everyone else we met that day quickly embraced Augusto, kissing his cheeks and smiling with joy upon seeing him. She told us if we had time to wait they had just received some Dorado and could grill some for us. The buffet was decent, as usual the beans were perfectly cooked, the vegetables still had a bite to them and manioc was in abundance. The grilled fish was superlative. Her pepper sauce tinged with ginger had just the fire and acidity to set off the richness of the fish.

The restaurant was near the Lancha dock in Mar Grande, the eastern tip of the island. The ferry boat also docked nearby in a neighboring town. Around the corner from the restaurant was Nova Terra a fifteen year exchange program with Italy. Italian citizens sponsored Brazilian children in Salvador and Itaparica from birth through all of the supplemental schooling and vocational training the children were willing to participate in. Often the sponsors would travel to meet their charges. Otherwise the children were instructed to write to their benefactors informing of their successes and giving thanks. They had raised enough money to build a brand new three story facility. Most children came two to three days per week, receiving instruction in history and cultural including Capoeira and Samba, Computer skills, Beautician training, Math, Italian, Portuguese, Construction and soon a new Art curriculum.

_________the political candidate greeted us a the door, and ushered us into a small gymnasium. We were given small portions of chocolate caramel mousse before the children, aged eight to fourteen began to demonstrate their talents in Samba and Capoeira. Slowly they pulled us onto the floor to join them, mimicking their moves. We laughed, dancing, sparring and parrying with a variety of quite proficient young boys and girls. We toured the facility learning about all of the programs that were extant. Rahul and I laughed as we saw several pre-adolescent girls cluster, giggle and blush at us.

We continued on stopping briefly at the Sociedade Brasileira de Eubiose Spiritual Center on a hillside. Their temple consisted of three large Isoceles triangular buildings, one larger than the other two. This faith believed in the age of Aquarius, Harmonic Convergence among other things. The site had been chosen based on the planetary energy it contained. Later, after driving for thirty minutes or more, through several small villages, past some houses constructed with Indian building methods and over beautiful landscape, we arrived in a forest clearing that contained a massive three story ruin. This was the site of the first Catholic Mission, built in 1551. It mirrored the story of the film of the same name. The Portuguese Jesuits had wanted to build far from the early colonial settlements and their corrupting influences, in their quest to bring God to the Indigenous population. There had been a great central hall with a room at the back and two narrow rectangular rooms on either side of the hall. We all took pictures, and Rahul planted half a dozen candles in the dirt at the center of the former great hall. He lit them and made a quiet incantation in Bangla before we left.

The driver drove fast and furiously, overtaking donkeys laden with produce and building materials, scooters and speeding island taxis. I commented that a violet and salmon sunset was beginning to show brilliantly ahead of us. Augusto shook his head and said that is the problem. We are supposed to be at the western edge of the island to see it. We arrived at the bridge to _______________in time for the afterglow. A few fisherman were busy at work below the bridge as trucks and cars hauled across the span twenty and thirty miles over the local speed limit. The day had been varied and rich. We had gotten a wonderful taste of this temporary home and a better sense of the loving nature of Augusto our right arm at Sacatar.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Zeno's house: Monday, na segunda 18-August; 6:45 AM..
Awake and dreaming of what had just occured over the last few days, I realized that in a short period of time, I had seen an entirely different Brazil than the one that I had enjoyed with Michele. We, she and I had had an exceptional experience together. Now, I was getting under the second or third layer of skin. Everywhere and everyone we encounter requires greater depth of context and exposure to reveal the heart or essence of the taste. Yet, too often we motor through our experiences pinning on badges to indicate how we have accumulated many "toys". The goal becomes the acquistion of the trophy and not the subjective experience. Time, context and a certain sense of abandon can bring the place/the person; the ripening fruit more fully into our consciousness. Do we work to pay the rent or to give time for quality of life? This might be one of the gifts that Brazil is giving me 50 years into the game.
I heard birds outside my window and the dog shortly afterwards. Today was the shift. Leaving Salvador for the island of Itaparica, the largest island in Baia de Todos Santos. A few months of remove, research, beauty, introspection and challenge. I dressed quickly after the cold shower. The water makes you get your business done quickly. Zeno's daughter had fixed breakfast for us. She and Joao, her son had already eaten. We sat down to pao, two types, butter, cheese, ham, a little fruit, strong steaming coffee and suco Maracuja. Chatting a bit more about last night's service, I began to construct relevant questions, when a business call took him away from the table. I finished eating, cleaned my place, organized my possessions and began to resume writing in a sunny corner of the living room. The phone rang again and it was Luis, from Sacatar. We had been corresponding for nearly a year, but I had never heard his voice. I had guessed that he would not have been a tenor. No matter. He was calling to ask if I could be ready by 1:00 PM. A mini van would be picking me up. Fine. I returned to my work.
Thirty minutes later the bell rang. Zeno came back inside and called me to the door; "It's for you Scott." Hmm? I went to the door, standing there was a handsome, robust dark skinned man, who identified himself as Augusto. His face was kind, and his afro longer than the buzz cuts, I had grown used to. In English and Portuguese he told me that he was here to pick me up. Surprised, I could tell he read the perplexity on my face. Continuing he began to explain, a delayed flight, change of plans; if I wanted he could come back? I asked where he would go? Did he have other folks with him? Zeno interrupted our quirky dialogue. He asked Augusto for his itinerary. It turned out that people had been arriving at different times. We would be five in total. Two were at a Pousada that happened to be a short drive from his house. One was enroute from Sao Paulo. Her plane from NY had been delayed. She, Lauri was the photographer who lived near me. We shared some friends yet did know each other. The last, Nathan was coming in from Australia. I learned later he had had to take five flights to get to Salvador. He would have the longest trek, longer than Rahul who was with Hannah at the Pousada, Villa Cristina.
It was decided that Augusto would collect Hannah and Rahul, return to get me within thirty minutes, and then we would pick up Lauri at the airport. Zeno's home was a relatively short drive away from the airport. Ok. I straightened up Joao's room where I had slept. Checked my things, and began to move my bags out to the yard. Luckily his daughter spied my computer cable, plugged in under Joao's desk. That would have been a pain in the ass. I spent the last half hour, playing with Joao. He was insisting that he was still three and not four. He had brought out his superheroes, Superman and O homen aranha. We wrestled a bit, and then he proceeded to inflate and deflate balloons left over from the party. Bored with this activity he grabbed a broom and batted balloons around the room, then stabbed them dead, as they exploded and shreds of rubber fell on the furniture. He cackled. The bell rang again. I ran to get it. This time it was a friend of Zeno's. I was anxious. While I was calling Zeno to come meet his friend, the van pulled up. I hugged Joao, said goodbye to Zeno and his daughter, lugged my gear to the van and we left.
Hannah, blonde, fetching and easter lily pale, also American from Vermont was living in Capetown teaching art, painting and working as a children's book illustrator gave me an easy smile and a warm greeting. Next to her was a lithe tawny Bangladeshi man, Rahul. He had a cottony beard, lush curls and a winning, tender character from the get-go. He was fifteen hours behind Brazil, and had taken three days of travel to get to Salvador. All a bit nervous, we quietly eyed each other, shared perfunctory introductions, and listened to Augusto discuss the trajectory of our morning. Lauri's plane was still delayed. He decided to give us a cash machine lesson at the airport to kill time. I bought some popcorn to share, while we waited. Lauri arrived soon afterwards. She was nimble, bubbly and attractive, her fresh extensions grazed her shoulders. We had lost Rahul for a moment. He is very intimate with tobacco.
Within in ten minutes drive we were in a Por Peso buffet restaurant. Though they mimicked our salad bar restaurants, they seemed to be a cut above. Steam tables were replenished quickly, filled just enough to handle the crowd at hand, the food never seemed wilted. Additionally, there is generally an option to purchase churrasco, chicken, meat skewers, sausages, hearts, grilled carne do sol, etc. Of course there is also a plethora of ripe fruit and prepared sobremesas or desserts. Finally, fresh cafezinhos are generally complementary. Depending upon the weight and the establishment, you could have a satisfying ample meal for $7-10 American. I guess this is what draws folks to __________. Now satiated, we headed to the Ferry Boat, "yeah that is what they call it in Portuguese." Unfortunately, we had just missed one. We waited about forty minutes for the next one. The ferry ride would be an hour. I preferred the Lancha, or wooden boats that left every thirty minutes. The ride took half the time, and had more personality, for a similar price. The Lancha did not take any vehicles. Suddenly it began to drizzle. I helped Rahul buy cigarettes. In his words, "Bangla is my mother tongue". His English was a bit halting, but good. Portuguese would be uphill for him. His communication and charm would be with music. He was a classic Indian flautist and excellent singer. We would come to hear him break out in song at almost any opportunity. The joy of performance was enhanced by the explanation of the song; an ode to Krishna, a prayer to the sea for putting the sun to bed. My kind of guy.
The ride from the dock takes about ten minutes. We drove through a small village, past simple concrete homes, a few tourist vacation cottages, past tethered horses and sloping verdant hillsides. Finally arriving at Sacatar after three o'clock, as we all stepped from the van to take in the house, grounds and beach in unison we all cried out, Augusto included. T"Look, did you see the rainbow! And you can see its terminus. I ran around the van, parked in a rutted muddy tract. "Look, you can see the other end too". Both ends of the rainbow kissed the sea. I turned to Augusto, "Qual e o nome do rainbow em Portuguese?" He replied, "Arcoiris!" Rahul began jumping and pointing, "YOU must look now. Do y-o-u see; See it?" Oh, my. It was a double rainbow. Faintly, there was another rainbow adjacent to the first. Now, that's planning. Reveling in the beauty, our house tour was a blur. We all got lost several times, locating our rooms, the library and the lounging areas. Augusto, somewhat of a jokster, beneath his dignified facade created a drama akin to Monty Hall's what's behind Door # 2, as he showed us first our rooms and then our individual studios. At several instances he whispered clues in Portuguese to anyone who could follow along.
He left us to rest, telling us that our fifth, Nathan would hopefully arrive tomorrow at lunchtime, if his last flight stayed on schedule. They expected him to land later on this evening in Salvador. After we had had a break, we met the staff, all of whose names I forgot immediately. I would quickly recall both Dete (Day-chay) and Marcia (Mah-see-a) who would be our cooks. Sometimes the meals were simple. Sometimes they were vaguely international, I guess to suit our diverse and evolving palates. But always the fruits and vegetables were just picked, the chickens freshly killed with a chew to the bone from being on their feet and the beef or pork generally of the salted variety. This was a holdover from the colonial period when the lack of refrigeration necessitated salting and sun curing as a preservative. Marcia loved baking and making desserts. That was her strong suit. And, as all good cooks need to be, they new how to stretch their ingredients. I clued the crew into the fact that they would begin to eat Mandioca at almost every meal, sometimes in disguises that would hide its identity. We had a simple dinner of roast chicken, simple salad, rice, beans, white rolls, a passion fruit mousse and cherimoya juice. That evening after dinner we all professed incredulity at the beauty and serenity of Sacatar and the island. We had arrived.


Sunday evening 17-Aug
Stepping off of the bus that Mario had directed me to as it arrived at Porto da Barra, my old stomping grounds with Michele, I walked quickly to the loja da Costeira, or dressmaker's shop where I had left some mending earlier in the week. I was doubtful that she was still open, if she worked at allon Sundays. As I guessed, the shop was tightly shuttered. I walked through the neighborhood to the Citibank ATM to withdraw cash for the next few days. After that I would have time for dinner before heading to Terreiro Gantois, the house that Zeno officiated at. Zeno was the grandson of Mae Menininha, one of most important Mae de Santos of the twentieth century, and a dear old friend of my mentor, Danny.
Most of the restaurants were closing early or opening late, depending upon whether their clientle were locals or tourist based. Against my gut, I went to the large beachside restaurant that sat under a large tent on a hill just above the sand.
Non-smoking was on a lower level and breeze according to the Maitre'D. I put on my jacket, sat down and realized that I had to anchor everything on my table, including the cloth against the strong seawinds. I had a simple dish of Corvina Grelhada com Molho Brasiliero, Grilled Corvina with a creamy, pinkish sauce of Hearts of Palm and Shrimp; rice, farofa and pirao. My waiter directed me to the bus I would need to Engenho Federacao neighborhood and the Terreiro Gantois. Again, I recalled that the word, Engenho signified the site of a Sugar Plantation. An appropriate site for one of the three most important terreiros in Salvador.
The wind whipped at all of us waiting for the bus. Thirty minutes and my bus was still not there. I walked past the lighthouse towards Ondina to stay warm and decided to take a cab in front of a large Hotel Condo complex. I was anxious. Since I was not able to pickup my trousers I knew that I would have difficulty at the service tonight. I had learned in Cachoeira, that men needed white or light colored shirts and long pants. They had let me slide at the Lira Terreiro, i knew that Gantois would be more strict. I already knew that no photographs, recording or video equipment would be allowed.
Grinding the gears a bit as my driver shifted into second gear as we began to climb a steep hill. Earlier at lunch in Ana Claudia's home Roseangela had said that she thought Gantois sat on the site of an old Senzala, or Slave Quarters.Zeno, later disagreed with her assertion. I chuckled when we reached the top of the hill, Gantois shared the hill with the broadcast tower of the local CBS affiliate. I exited the cab at 8:15 PM, after paying the $17.00 fare. On either side of the slope were a few small cafe bars and a bodega. I saw that they earned their livelihood from the neighborhood and all of the international tourists who wanted to experience a Candomble ceremony. This arena was quite different to the local feeling I had witnessed in Cachoeira. While waiting for the doors to open, I bought a bottle of mineral water and some gum to guard against dozing. I walked to one of the windows and stood with the other tourists waiting for our cue to enter.
The well lit ceremonial room was a large square similar to the yesterday's in Cachoeira. Large rectangular windows were open on three sides of the terreiro. White streamers rained down from the ceiling like snow. Starburst icons of cane stalks with coconut centerpieces, painted with red, white and black designs decorated the walls. A raised platform framed on two sides sat in the center of the fourth wall, with two doors on either side of it. A large wooden throne sat in the center of this area with two smaller chairs on either side of it. Many sprays of tuberose and white carnations were set around this platform, in a beige mesh accented by coconut palm fronds. On the floor at the front of the platform is an arrangement of red flowers with a painted ceramic figure planted at their center. A large over saturated cibachrome photo collage hung above the throne. It seemed identical to the images created by my NY astrologer Carol's husband Aris. Curious. Several photos of Mae Menininha hung at the far end of this wall. Lush potted tropicals were set around the perimeter of the space. A large scuptural represenation of Oxossi, the Orixa who is the spiritual head of the terreiro was hung near the entryway. Behind the bandstand were wide wooden panels like venetian blinds with dried painted Obobora Squash arranged in festive designs. Again the center of the room is demarcated, this time with three different rectangular tiles, below which sit part of the Fundamento. A jute hanging with mini dried gourds suspended in a web of cowries hangs above these tiles.
This terreiro segrated the men from the women with long benches on either side of the room. The doors leading to the preparation rooms and sanctuary areas were marked for each gender. The musicians and cantors were stationed on a small platform in the center of the men's area. They chatted and laughed together, killing time. Identical to any church there were half a dozen men dressed all in white functioning like ushers and deacons milling around the room. I heard at least four languages from the anxious crowd. Here colored skins constitued fifty percent of the crowd. From the conversations, I learned that some of the tourists had guides with them. A handsome black man approaches me, recognizing me from Cachoeira and last night. Greeting me in perfect British accent, with overtones of Portuguese, he immediately I.D.'s me as "the American." He was surprised that I had known of the Ligia terreiro. Was I connected to the Mae de Santo? No, I replied. My first time her in Brazil. Switching to Portuguese he wished me well and walked on. I had also noticed a few faces from last night's ceremony, including the two blonde Germans. Hmm. On the sidewalk I saw man I had found in three different locales hawking Orixa etchings. Beautifully bold monochromatic images which were badly printed and stained with ink. He claimed to have exhibition quality prints as well. Then the doors were opened and I walked around to the front of the building to find a seat. I was immediately denied entrance due to my exposed legs.
I quickly went back to the window I had been stationed at. I nudged inbetween the oversized bellies of two large Argentines dressed in white outfits, appropriate for a tennis match. Together we shifted positions, and craned our necks to see over the male congregants inside who had long pants on. The best view I could muster caused me to stand with my torso torqued, one hip jutting into the wall balanced on my left leg with my right knee stradling between the brick work. I could tell that I wouldn't be falling asleep tonight. Luckily, Zeno had informed me that their services were generally three hours long. A thick crowd gathered behind us, including one woman who spoke Haitian French and Portuguese. She was spotted and saluted by several of the ushers. I wondered why she did not go inside, since she had been identified as a known quantity. After 90 minutes, first one then the second Argentine split from our perch. I was able to stand in a more normal fashion, though still on my toes in hopes of a partial view. This woman now sharing the window with me kept sniping at the taller men inside who obscured our view to move off to the sides. Some obliged her entreaties, others ignored them.
In spirit the service mimiced that of Ligia, though it was much more grand and polished. The opening procession around the central icon was done by twenty to thirty women; black, white and brown all in traditional Baiana dress. They proceeded to become possessed and also introduce popcorn to the congregants, though in a much more subtle way. Everyone paid homage to the Mae de Santo on the throne and were more deliberate in all of their postures, dances and actions. Again we were greeted by Mae de Santos garbed as Orixa. I saw Omulu, the Orixa of disease, Iemenja, guardian of the Seas and Oxossi among others. All the while I watched as Zeno quietly observed the service standing just inside of the doors marked for men. He observed the scene very closely, as if insuring that all of the rituals, songs and procedures were appropriately observed. Again, I saw people led out of the hall for a meal. Yet there was no equivalent to the "bystander" in the street who changed the focal point of the activity and had appeared to herald the denouement of the service. This time, I had more time to observe the details of form and function within the ceremony. I was beginning to become accustomed to the visual tableau enacted by the possessed, these Baianas and Orixa figures. Still it was spellbinding and ethereal to behold.
As predicted, about 11:30, Zeno came out and found me, stating in English, "Let's Go! -It's just over now." The participants were still circling to the singing and drum beats, but I could tell that all would be done in a few moments. I guess he wanted to beat the traffic. We talked briefly about the service. Zeno was curious to see if I had enjoyed the experience. I briefly related my experiences in Cachoeira to him, including last night's Candomble. He asked me a few questions about what I had observed. I realized that I had begun to jumble my Orixas into one big muddle in my attempts to clarify and understand the ritual. I had too many naive and ignorant questions. I needed to ground my knowledge in some history and fact. We switched our conversation to discuss the details of Joao's fourth birthday that had occured yesterday. We made it home fairly quickly. I felt at home, and comforted in his house. There were references to his grandmother and to Iemanja throughout the house. We both worked on our computers for awhile before retiring for the evening. This time, I made sure to slather mosquito repellant on my legs. His house was so close to the beach, that many flying insects flew over the walls that surrounded his home and provided sanctuary from the street. Finally, I had a easy dreamy rest.

Samba, Capoeira & Candomble, Sunday 17/8

Rains had briefly interrupted last night's Samba de Roda at the Irmandade. An unrelenting downpour began in between the sets of two of the bands. The refectory quickly recalled a steamy club or college Ratskellar, sweat streaming on faces and bodies. Like damp tinned sardines we were trapped inside. The smokers and beer drinkers stood huddled outside under the eaves or encircling old trees trunks for the protection of their canopies. I had chosen the blue bubble of an Oi! telephone booth. A perfect venue until the winds rose. When the music resumed I shot some photos. I was shaking my booty on my own until a woman's hand grabbed mine and pulled me into the strut yo' stuff circle. The crowd had created two small circles on either side of the room. Each one barely four feet in diameter was encircled by gyrating bodies ogling whoever jumped into the zone to exhibit their wares and their rhythms. We held our own for a few moments before I pulled out, tired and weak of knee. After the next batch of rain, I decided to head back to the "ousada" Wanting to decompress a bit, I walked down a few side streets to enjoy the evening air before bed. Light spilled out of the Cultural Center's massive wooden doors in front of me. I walked into the lobby, briefly eyeing an exhibit of abstract sculpture mimicking architectural models of skyscrapers. I heard music above me, so I followed the sounds to the main hall on the second floor. I found an adhoc party of advanced Capoeira students and their masters, lounging playing Capoeira and berimbaus. Several women were off to the side, chatting and smoking. Feeling like an uninvited guest, I listened briefly and then sought refuge in a nearby exhibit of Public School children's art and poetry in homage to the Boa Morte. It was honest and tender as children can often be. Twenty minutes later, I was back on the street walking towards the praca. The scene was pop rockish, so I gave up.
Entering the house, "Mom" was getting ready for her Saturday night, brushing out her hair, primping, painting eyeliner and posing in the mirror. Equally absorbed in his telenovela and his Mom's transformation Gito switched between the two from his makeshift bed/sofa. "Voce vai ir com nos agora? What, I thought-uh.., "Que?" " Vai ir: no Candomble! Esta cansado, voce? Sim, parece cansado." I responded, " Pois nao muito. Pode deixar me fazer algo, e eu posso ir com voces." She was right. I was exhausted. But, I realized that the opportunity was now. Then she began insisting that I bring my camera too. "Pode tirar fotos, certo! Nao e; pode. Deve. I was conflicted because I had dedicated the remaining photos on my card to the Caruru. "No", I replied in Portuguese. "I will use my eyes as my camera. Esta bom."
Fuimos desde um ratinho caminando comjunto entre as ruas obcuras. We walked quietly and quickly, trying to beat the next rain. We had elected to leave the umbrella at home, but brought a light jacket for Gito. We crested the hill across town and entered the park adjacent to the Igreja do Monte. In September I would return for another festa that would bless the church now undergoing renovations and celebrate Sao Cosme e Damiao. "Voce pode ouvir os tambores?" At first I heard nothing, and then suddenly the still night was shattered by thundering drums, their volume increased as we descended down the cobblestone street into another neighborhood. A crowd had gathered outside the terreiro as we walked up. Mom found us seats inside, I was placed next to two blonde German women, with their cameras ready. I was getting my Candomble 101 course. Last night's observation of the teen devotees engaged in their rituals in the town's square, had been a good precursor to this ceremony enacted by their elders.
The room square and white, was well lit with bare bulbs and fluorescents. A glazed golden tile with a large star was cemented in the middle of the floor. Coconut palm frond hung like streamers spilled down from the ceiling, interspersed with strings of popcorn. Several rows of white plastic chairs, thirty or so, lined two walls, a makeshift bandstand sat opposite the entryway, and a two throne-like wooden chairs opposed each other with symbolic objects mounted on the wall above them. A large window opened out to the street allowing standees to observe the ceremony. Faded iconic photos of black Brazilians, images of mermaids, Wonder Woman, Saint George slaying the dragon, a few inspirational messages and painted coconuts adorned the walls.
Initially the scene was measured by loping drum rhythms on three Atabaqui drums beaten with freshly whittled sticks, tinkling cowbells and hammered triangles. As the chairs filled, three middle aged men positioned in different areas began to chant and sing. Each new song instigated a new melody, slowly bringing half a dozen people mostly in light colored street clothes forward to processing around the starred tile. I knew that one man, dressed all in white with a white cap was a new initiate. All of the women had tied white fabric wrappers around their torsos and street clothes. A few women in Baianan white dresses and head scarves joined the circle. I recognized one of the Senhoras da Boa Morte in this group. Gazing around at the crowd, I realized that another Senhora sat in one of the throne chairs and two more flanked her. As each one approached these chairs, they hugged their elders, prostrated themselves, kissed their hands and moved on. Hips swayed and arms seemed to gestured rowing, hoeing, and offered thanks toward the sky. I imagined samba footwork at one quarter time. Subtly, in a whisper one, two then a third person became possessed. Each one had a mentor who rolled up pants legs, removed their shoes and any jewelry that might break or harm the wearer. Hands were grasped to guide the devotees, change their direction or occasionally leading them off to another room. A few people received their host hunched over uttering gutteral growls and shouts, spastically shaking their extremities. Loud, staccato drumming, heralded the arrival of Iemanja bearing a large tray of popcorn and shaved coconut draped in white lace. Setting on top of the popcorn was a small ceramic dish holding a few bills. The tray easily four feet in length was set down on a stool, and various people around the room were showered with popcorn. Everyone present was given a handful to eat.
Now the pace quickened. Others dressed as Orixa appeared chanting, barking and trembling as they performed their ritual and manifested a possession that vacillated between conscious and unconscious behaviors. Four hours had gone by, when an elderly woman touched my sleeve and beckoned me to the room behind the door. Across the floor, "Mom" rose and mouthed, "Vai voce, ela tem comida." They both led a small group of us through the door, down a short flight of stairs past a sanctuary emanating a soft blue light. The stair ended at a small anteroom, with a low ceiling, wooden slat walls a few closed doors and a counter where a woman was placing huge plates of food. I sat in silence next to my host eating a mixture of rice, black eyed peas, caruru, chicken, beef, vatapa and abbara. Everything was quite redolent of palm and dried shrimp. I was led back into the main room, stopping at the open doorway, at the top of the stair. The room seemed undersea with mermaids, plants and sea imagery. The soft blue light was comforting. She asked me to kneel for a blessing and to leave one real as a symbolic gift to the terreiro and as good luck for me.
Back inside the room, now fever pitched, I watched as visitors came and went, some who were "parishioners" would process briefly, embrace their elders or be embraced by the Orixas. An intoxicated man came in from the street, tried to process, bobbed and weaved and was led out quietly, while rounds of fireworks and sheets of rain resounded in the street. Often like a jazz or contact improv, people moved around, got up, sat down, looked for the toilet, yet nothing interrupted the flow of the service. The cantors slowly moved to new positions in the room, made eye contact with each other when trying to decide on the order of songs. A new man, older than the others began to add his baritone to their chorus.
The Orixa figures and a few of the possessed individuals began to embrace everyone in the front row of chairs as they completed their practice. From the street came a catterwall. The majority of attendees quickly turned to find the source of the screams. I caught myself dozing off, shocked into wakefulness from the shouts I turned from the warrior Orixa figure in the room to see this bystander become possessed in the street just outside the terreiro. A portly ebony woman with straightened hair, she ran in and out of the room, alone or with help from one of the mentors. In the opposite corner one of the Baianas began sweeping at the corners with a straw broom. This new woman did not cease her wailing and running to and fro. Accidentally I grazed Gito's arm, sitting next to me. His body slack, his breathing heavy he was in full REM sleep and could not be awakened. We were reaching the six hour mark of the service. Now the Senhora-Orixa who seemed to embody Iemenja carefully embraced each congregant, grunting and breathing like an animal on the prowl. As she came to me and the two Germans she pulled us up to standing hugged each cheek, took her right hand and motioned with two fingers that our eyes must look directly into hers, as she lifted our torsos and bear hugged us in a way that seemed carnal, almost sensuous. This Mae de Santo was also one of the Senhoras da Boa Morte. I learned later that they were all Maes de Santo. I had guessed that the woman who had been in the street was signaling that the service was coming to a close. Her possession seemed to have brought in a new spirit which shooed the others away.
Mom realized that we needed to get Gito home, It was now close to 4:00 AM. It took both of us prodding, shaking, calling his name and squeezing his cheeks to awaken Gito. Once he lost some of his sleep drunkedness we made our way to the street, after giving thanks to the elders seated in the throne chairs. The cobblestones were shining from the rain and the full moonlight. Hearing his calm measured voice, I realized that "Mom" was fully engaged with the last cantor, the older gentleman. He started walking with us as we climbed the hill towards the Igreja. It sounded like he was a Pae de Santo, it seemed like he was from this community but had moved away. Based on snippets of conversation that I caught, he had come back for the festa and possibly this ceremony. They were catching up on old business. Listening to Gito's mom speak, I realized how simple her Portuguese was. Her tone was syrupy, like Delta women in Mississippi; though clipped and halting, pausing often to find her words. Images flooded my consciousness, interrupting this reverie. I was trying to process all that I had seen. I reached for context, subtext or rationale, yet in the moment it seemed irrelevant. We walked quickly through the vacant streets, spying an errant couple or two who had no safe zone for their intimacy. He came home with us, this Babalow. Of course he took "Mom's" bed and she took the last couch. Sleep came quickly for me; not a truly restful sleep, so pregnant with dreams of the Candomble service.