Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cachoeira: Walking with Gito & Cozido

I woke up early again, from the combination of the strange setting, someone's ringing cell, the snoring next door and the now accustomed fireworks and roosters. Dressing in the dark, I left walking in the opposite direction looking for another simple cafe, to eat and write in. I found a nice place near the bridge and had coffee and a bacon, pepper and egg pie baked in a crust, though not quiche. Exiting into the bright sunlight, I realized that I was at the edge of the town market. The market here was eight to ten times the size of that across the river. I spent a few hours walking the stalls that were centered around a Praca and two buildings, one larger for meat and grains, and the other for fish. If you couldn't afford those stalls you sold in the street with some folks displaying their wares on the cobblestones. sides of meat, cured meats and sausages, organs, heads, eyes, salted fish, tuberoses, herbs, fresh fish & shellfish, live poultry, honey, cheese, pickled peppers fruit and vegetables five blocks square. Wherever I could, I talked to the vendors and farmers about their products, shooting portraits, taking names, buying a piece of fruit or snack to taste. This was a better experience for me in many ways than the market at Sao Joaquim. I could navigate and negotiate the scale and the crowds much more easily than in Salvador. I was engaged with the softball sized pressed spheres of pounded manioc leaves ready to be boiled in several changes of water for Manicoba, the local beanless Afro-Indian style Fejioada. Passionfruit or Marcuja as large as grapefruits, air fragrant with aromatic flowers, manyof which I later learned were raised for Candomble ceremonies. Well cooked Figado de Boi, cooked and pressed into a pate-like rectangle. Fuma de corde, oily, thick coiled black rope that truly was a cheap form of tobacco, cut in sections for smoking. Salted and sundried meats, pieces of smoked pork belly skin, glistening with a fat layer if you couldn't afford a true piece of meat in your stew. Intestines ready to be cooked like chitterlings, honeycomb tripe, oxtails, live whole muddy blue crabs or cooked picked meat for $20/kilo. Herbs dried and fresh for cooking, home cures and spiritual practice. According to Lucia and Joselito I could flavor my dinner, treat diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, sore throats, ease the birthing process, get a laxative or cure a flu. I was impressed with the patience of some of the vendors with my Portuguese and diverse questions. Joselito the medicinal herb seller told me how much he like to communicate, share remedies, and accept that today's inquiry could be tomorrow's regular customer. Too many people were too rude with customers for him. People need help and advice and he prided himself on his honesty and hearfelt desire to teach. His daughter worked alongside him, I assume one day she would carry on his trade.
I returned home around 10:30 to set down some of my purchases and recharge my camera. I had to charge it in the hallway close to the door to the street, so I tried to charge it and rest since anyone could walk by reach in and take the device since the exterior door was never locked. As I walked in the home, Gito's mom told me that she had decided that I needed a good view of the city for a panoramic photo op. Gito would show me now if I was ready. Gito and I had had little to do with each other up to that point. I had spoken to him in passing briefly. As most kids do, he was typically fixated on the television when I was in their house. Quite a small boy for the 9 years he admitted to, I had wondered if he was fibbing, or just hadn't hit a preadolescent growth spurt. We eyed each other closely as she rattled on about the view and the hill. "Ok, I agreed; I will need a few minutes to charge my camera and eat a snack."
Walking uphill in an alley between the houses that I had not previously seen for approximately 500 meters lrevealed a nice view of the city. I turned fully around to take a shot and Gito waved me off. A fork in the road came and we took the upper roadway into the favela. (approp. in small cities?). A steep cobblestone street pitched such that I could not stand straight up, indicated a major visa further on. Almost two kilometers later, sweating and breathy the road became earth and mud. The houses had given way to fazendas, (farms). The first, on the eastern slope had a high iron gate and modern wire fencing. I asked, but Gito did not know what they raised or who the farmer's were. Higher still on the western slope was a massive cornfield, loosely terraced following the contours of the land. Everywhere we looked, even before the farms had begun there were large stands of banana trees. An occasional man with a machete, or a donkey laden with produce crossed our path; otherwise we were quite alone. I tried speaking to him, but for a long while he seemed put upon, as if I was another chore. Once I began to shoot some pictures he began to relax. I tried to include him in some of the shots and he initially refused, possibly trying to be courteous or self conscious. Finally, I asked him if I could put him in my frame and he suddenly began to warm up. We jumped from an exchange of random words or questions, "What is the name of that bird?," to a fuller, albeit choppy conversation, about Cachoeira, his interests, his studies in English, Italian and Capoeira.
The unpaved road was flatter and I could see some other streets up ahead. "Tinhamos passado a Porta do Belem". -We have crossed the townline, we are on the edge of Belem. "Is that is why it is a dirt road?" "Sim." He continued telling me how we could walk through part of the city and head south entering Cachoeira across town from where he lived. Matter of factly he said that it would be a long walk. I looked back, thought about my appointment to watch the preparation of the Cozido, and the distance we had traversed already. I quickly responded, "Nao. Obrigado pra sua sugestao, mais vamos voltar agora." No, thanks for your suggestion, let's turn around here. Descending the way we came, I shot a few more pictures of random people and lthe andscape. I did not notice that close to town he chose a different fork that put us close to the praca. Now fully engaged he showed me the prison cum museum built first to house and punish slaves, a plaque identifying Cachoeira as the site of the first independence movement against Portugual and a sweet cafe and shop of local artisans. I asked him if he knew of a tour of the sugar mills and Dende plantations that I had read about? He took me to the tourist office and then to a neighbor's home who did Jeep tours. Neither option gave fruit. I suggested that he come with me to see the women, so we continued uphill towards the Irmandade, now quite familar and comfortable with each other.
We entered the refectory and some of the sisters were sitting, chatting; waiting for the remainder to arrive. The refectory consisted of two rooms and a bathroom. The first room had a large sitting room, dining area an open kitchen at the back and a stair to the sanctuary. The other room was a large flagstone patio which had two iron burners with propane tanks large enough to accomodate forty and fifty gallon pots. The kitchen was defined by a half wall with a countertop, above which hung an accordion steel gate that could be folded tight to the wall or expanded and locked to protect their equipment. Mae Zelita brought me to meet the women who began the food preparation each day. Since the sisters had not all arrived, I was allowed into the kitchen with my camera. Ana Christina, a stout round face woman with a cheerful grin pointed out all of the vegetables that they had cooked and were prepping to cook, the various meats and the rich stock that had come from braising everything together. The pattern was that the women in conjunction with the commissioner of the Irmandade, (this year it was Mae Zelita), prepared the ritual meal for the sisterhood, and then did it again in massive quantities for the townsfolk. By that time the sisters had all arrived and Mae Zelita returned to finish their food. I began to shoot her as she grabbed a 3 foot wooden spoon to stir and season the broth, when she raised her voice and told me never to take her picture, or at least not when she cooked. I never found out why, I couldn't do this; but I heeded her command and left the kitchen.
Walking across the floor, one of the sisters beckoned to me to sit next to her near the exit door. Mae Analia was a large woman, with a body suited for hard work. She had a warm face and she volunteered some details about the history of the sisterhood and the week's festivities to clarify questions that I had. I was appreciative of her help, though I learned that any sister who you engaged wanted tribute money. The sisterhood lives off of the sale of handmade candles representing each of the Orishas and whatever donations they receive from the town and the tourists. I cannot truly blame them for their methods. I venerated the sisters, with a high degree of esteem, respect and humility. But it still felt odd to have a pleasent discussion and then be asked to pay for it.
At this moment, Anaclaudia entered with her family a college friend Rosangela and her husband Julio, from Salvador. Rosangela had brought me a book written by a European in English about the foods of Bahia. Somewhat dated, yet quite informative, I was quite appreciative that a stranger hearing of my research gave of themselves to help me with my work. She went on to tell me that if I desired a home in the area, she wanted to sell the beach house she and her husband had built when their kids were small in the fishing village west of Itaparica in Barra da Paraguacu. She would send Jpegs and we could discuss it. Maybe I had a friend...?
Lunch was served now that the immediate families of the sisters arrived. The cozido was delicious and the veggies sublime. Gito refused the meal. I am not sure why. One of the Mae's brought a basket filled with Banana Reais-Banana Fritters. I gave mine to Gito, who beamed as he ate the warm sweet filling. We decided to leave when a few of the sisters called me over. I was wearing my t-shirt depicting a Vampire George Bush sucking the blood from a dying Statue of Liberty. The sister seemed quite disturbed by the image. I wasn't sure if she knew the characters. I explained the image and the symbolism to her. One of her companions added to my description to make sure that she understood the theme. At that moment the three of them burst out in bawdy laughter and I joined in.
I found Mae Zelita to thank her for her generosity and to ask about the nature of the specific dishes chosen for these meals. She stood between Ana Claudia and me facing her relations as she told me that this dish, Cozido, had to do with the fact that the slaves always kept a small garden to supplement the meager rations that they received from the masters. This dish, all of the dishes helped us remember the reality of the slave life and their diet, relative to their workload. She looked closely at me for a sense of comprehension. I said nothing, but had followed her story. Most of her extended family was lost in their own conversation. All of a sudden, as though she was a teen girl, she looked around the room furtively and said we make this food to show what the NEGROES ate and grabbed Ana Claudia's arm who is many, many shades darker than her aunt. Holding her forearm, Zelita pointed to her skin color to make sure I understood what she was describing, cackled boldly and ran away. She had grabbed everyone's attention except Ana and Rosangela. We all burst out laughing uncontrollably while Ana stood bewildered looking at the arm that her aunt had just relinquished. Having seen the tristeza and solidarity of the sisterhood, it was great to see this expression of pluck and good humor.
I thanked the sisters and cooks who had helped me today, found Gito and got ready to leave. At the door a tiny sister, made huge by the volume of lace garments that she wore, made me think of the B boys in NYC who wear clothing several sizes too big creating a similar visual statement of grandness. She sat by herself, head down in thought or meditation. I said hello, she looked up and I saw her cheeks and forehead speckled with moles like my mother had had. I shared this memory with her, telling how as a young boy I always thought that any black woman I saw with moles like my Mom suggested a safe harbor, friend or maybe relation. Her eyes sparkled spreading light between us. Nearly teary, I left with Gito.
He had one more stop he thought we should make together. He thought that his neighbor might be in his boat which was tied up on the river near the praca. Arriving at the water the boat was gone, but their was a Capoeira demonstration and graduation ceremony for the young recruits of the Mulekietu school. Children from four to about sixteen were sparring with their masters and being awarded their first belts for their efforts. Some of Gito's friends were in the demo, so he was all up in this scene. Half an hour later, I walked on, leaving him there reveling in his friend's successes; free from the care of the American.

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