Monday, August 18, 2008

Everywhere I go there is lunch

I left the Irmandade soon afterwards, around twelve thirty, still agitated by my fellow New Yorkers. They seemed to signal an end to my audience, or at least the quiet reverie that I had glimpsed this morning. I was tired from last night's ceremony. I was not going to be able to stay for the evening meal and closing of the festival. My memory card was full, Ana Claudia had suggested that I stop by for lunch or at least to say goodbye. Her friend, Dosete had also implied that I might be able to get a ride to Salvador with she and her boyfriend, Mario. I walked home, arranged my things, paid my way and sat down to update my journal with today's notes. Gito's mom, the Dona da casa, asked me to stay for lunch. At breakfast she had showed me her market purchases and related her plans for a celebratory meal as her end to the festa. The house was redolent of her cooking; feijoes, boiling veggies for a cooked macedoine salad, garlic, ginger sizzling in palm oil; the start of her moqueca de siri. A bucket next to the stove was filled with carangueijos, meaty blue crabs; still muddy and squirming. I thanked her, but explained that I intended to stop in Sao Felix to say goodbye to Ana Claudia and her family. Again she asked me to take Gito along. This time he seemed genuinely excited to come.
I decided to ask about Gito's sister, or her absence. "Oh, -she had gone to Salvador the morning after my arrival." My suspicions about freeing up bedspace were probably true. It had also been almost a day since I had seen that lithe, handsome chestnut man always shirtless who had been in and out all weekend. He had not seemed to be father or lover, and yet not quite border either. I guessed that "Mom" took in folks for various reasons as a means to survive. He might be one of us. She benefitted from her neighbors, a little more savy than she. At least savy enough to be able to obtain an internet listing. As she spoke to me, I looked at her as a woman. I had noticed her for the first time when she had been combing out her curls last night. She was tawny and sallow, her hair wavy and thick. Looking more deeply, I guessed that she was Criuolo. Her children were much darker than she. Well, no matter their heritage, they had opened up their simple home and their lives to me. She seemed to have judged me worthy enough. I was a safe bet to pair with her son. Practically speaking, she had fostered a certain osmosis between us. Gito and I had shared a few vocabulary words and brief conversations in English and Portuguese. We had shared our world's with each other.

So, on the way to Sao Felix I decided to stop in at the Pousada Ana Nery, the location of my botched reservation. Twice over the weekend, I had run into Grandma on the street, always in that same housedress. I wanted some closure, and I need to be thankful. As Gito and I walked around the corner, we found Grandma lifting the iron gate, ubiquitous in Cachoeira; (they kept out strays and kept in toddlers and pets). We followed her inside, surprising the family who were seated for lunch. Just as this Dona da casa approached me to offer another lunch invitation, I explained our visit; hoping to clarify my purpose. She asked Gito to confirm my intentions. She seemed surprised that I had come of my own volition, and had not been sent by his Mom. Finally, we came to one mind. She offered me blessings, God's kindness and safe travel. She was tickled and beaming when I related that I had observed Candomble, adentro dum terreiro. "Qual era o terreiro?" She asked me. "De Lira, atrais da Igreja do Monte," I responded. "O. Sim. Que bom. Que Bom! E bom pra voce."

Listening to her speak, I watched hummingbirds descend through the open roof, seeking nectar from the carnations and gladiolus on the dining table. The living room opened onto a stairway that led to the bedrooms on the second floor. The stair wrapped around a small stone patio at the core of the house that was open to the sky. First one, then two more hummingbirds came and went, fluttering at high speeds up to the clouds. Every room was graced with natural light, fresh breezes and probably a little rain. This magical moment at once breathtaking and so simple, also suggested a cue to journey on; savoring the memory of these birds inside the house. We said goodbye and walked towards the rusty bridge that linked the twin towns.

In the park at the foot of the bridge, Mario saw us and whistled for us. I was totally unaccustomed to be sought out in this town, in this country and in this new language. Gito pointed him out. Smiling up at us from a bench, they both quickly told me how happy they were to have met me, and now more formally offered me a lift to Salvador. I asked when they were leaving, and related my plan to see Ana Claudia briefly. They said that they thought they would drop by too. They would call her if they changed their plans. Now, with the possibility of a lift to town, I told Gito that I wanted to stop at the Rodoviaria and try to exchange my ticket. Pipedream.

Ana opened her door thinking that we were Rosangela and Julio back from morning stroll, a passeio. She was pleased to see me, and surprised by Gito's presence. Was this my son?--she inquired. I chuckled, explaining our relationship and thinking how different we lived. Wouldn't she have met him sooner, if I was a stranger alone in her town? Ushering us inside, she asked him specifics about where he lived and went to school, seeming to calculate his class and economics. Food arrived immediately after we were seated, yesterday's Manicoba (improved with age), a cool Frigideira, a dense meat pie with diced vegetables and an eggy crust. ( A bacalhau frigideira had been served by the Irmandade on the day of the White Meal.), the ever present Suco Maracuja, fresh passionfruit juice, and as she called it in broken English, "P-pI, Pie." Her pie had a crumb crust, ripe cooked peaches, possibly canned sat on top of a condensed milk custard and were bathed in a gelatinous probably tapioca thickened glaze. Oh, a drippingly sweet, sweet-yummy. Finally; the cafezinhos. By this time, Ana Claudia's Dad had arrived with Roseangela and Julio. They sat and ate with us. We broke into a discussion of grammar and tonality of Latin languages, discussing and disagreeing each point closely. Ana Claudia, Roseangela and Dosete had all been students of English and Portuguese studies at university together.

We stood up to leave and walked across a concrete patio to Ana's parents home. I said goodbye to her parents and her uncle and her other two aunts. Dosete and Mario had arrived. They cut some herbs from the garden, we loaded all the cars, and left Sao Felix, dropping Gito at home on our way out of town. Dosete stopped for a photo op at the golden archway heralding Cachoeira, to create a bookend for her weekend photos, before we got onto the highway.

Just like rural France and Spain, the larger towns forced you to drive down their mainstreets and see the few sites they had. The highway had speedbumps near some of these junctures, jarring me and containing hotrodders. Most of the towns we drove through seemed quite poor and destitute in comparison with Cachoeira, especially Santo Amaro; the home of Caetano Veloso and his sister Maria Bethania. I had been told that though poor the cultural heritage was also quite strong there.

The landscape was fertile and verdant studded with farms of cane, corn, stands of palm, banana and goiaba. I watched Macao monkeys scamper across phone lines, initially mistaking them for squirrels. Hawks circled above, and for the first time in years I spotted a bald eagle in flight.I had come to see why this was winter in Brazil. The air had been chilly the last few days and frequent soaking rains had characterized most days. Everything was new since I had arrived under cover of darkness. Back in Salvador, I was dropped at a major bus transfer point on the edge of town. Mario waited to make sure that I found the bus to Barra. I did some banking, ate a meal overlooking the beach and made my way to Zeno's terreiro, the former home of Mae Menininha; Gantois.

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