Tuesday, August 19, 2008


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.

No comments: