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.