Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Last Days and First Evenings.....

Michele left this evening. We had a quietly gentle day together doing a few last errands, getting ready, going toward. One last morning snuggle before we packed up our temporary digs and made a final path for Pelourinho. She wanted to go home with a single strand necklace for Ossain. She had the two other single strands that she needed for the moment. Later, she would get the more ceremonial 7 or 16 stranded beads. But for now, we needed to go see Bene our new friend in the Mercado Modelo. We had met Bene, after a day of shopping with Giovanna. Our excursion with her had been on a Friday before the MAM (Museo de Arte Moderno) jazz concert, almost 10 days ago. She had introduced us to the Mercado. It is a curious place. Almost the size of a football field with 60 foot ceiings. A cafe on each floor and a bar on the side for the workers. A paved patio out front for another tier of goods to be hawked as well as food and hair braiding. In one sense a tourist mecca....yet you can get deals there; especially if you are willing to haggle and pout. When she took us there, she poured on the sob story, we are American artists, she is a native Baiana, blah blah. Don't ya know she knocked down some prices by 25-30%. You can never forget the walk away with a cold glazed gaze factor. After you have given your best price, if they don't bite, thank them, turn to granite and back away. Usually that will get you an extra 5% off. So, that day she and Michele both got lace dresses. They each got wonderfully colored ones. Giovanna got a rainbow of daisies on a mesh lace and Michele got a swath of alternating gold and black flowers on stitched onto a based of the opposite color. She also got a white lace dress. Everyone got a fine cotton shirt, even me and Ed, (the lovely man who watched our house). Well, we had made plans to return to pick up one of the items that we did not have money for at the time. Giovanna had said that we should also go to the second floor when we returned. We did return the following Monday and went straight upstairs. There we met Tekka. She had a mane of loose curls bound up in an elegant head wrap and accessorized with various piercings and tattoos. She is probably someone's grandmother too. Well, Tekka had beautiful bolts of African fabric, earrings and some beads. I kept eyeing 1 set of beautiful cobalt blue beads. She told me that she had others. I said, again and again, that these were the only ones I liked. Really she asked? Yes. She continued her pitch, standing between me and her beads. After the third go-round, she asked, "Did I really mean what I said?" Yes. (mind you, this is all in Portuguese). "Well, then"....she motioned to the man whose stall was across the aisle from hers. "Watch my space." She led us across the floor and down to the far corner and introduced us to a chestnut brown-skinned man named Bene, I would guess he was in his early 70's. He only sold Orisha beads. Yes, that was the issue, I had been coveting her personal Yemenja beads. She told us that this was a favor, and that we had to return to purchase from her, but we could look at what Bene had.
Well, with Bene its all about who your Orisha are. Once we settled that he looks and looks through the hundreds of beads he had on display to pick out the one, or ones for you. single strand or multi, one Orisha or combinations of two or the whole cadre. He pulled, we looked, we admired, he searched for more. I ended up with a special strand that included all of the Orishas. What I marveled at with all of these folk is the fact that they will all take time with you, even if the sale is not readily apparent. And then, if you do not have the money, they will put the items you like aside. When we returned 10 days later Michele had forgotten about our layaway. Bene hadn't. That final Tuesday he pulled out five sets of multi stranded beads, two for her and three for me. Once she identified Ossain, he added another set to her pile. Bloomingdales works like that, right? I agreed to return before a week was up and collect our booty. After Bene, oh- I forgot about the first visit. After that first visit we did go back to Tekka's booth. Bene had advised us that we must put our beads deep into our bag so that she wouldn' t see them and not to wear them until we were far from the Modelo. With that we walked back to her booth and Michele tried on earrings. I tried to knock down the pricing, but she wouldn't budge. She probably had guessed that we had spent our monies with Bene. I admired her fabric and had her pull down some smaller pieces that could have made a nice wrap for Michele. We couldn't agree on anything, so that gave us an out to leave. We claimed that we would return soon and off we went.
Thus, on August 12, terca feira (third market day or Tuesday for us old-skoolers) we returned. We got her Ossain, and went out to the outdoor market to buy a cocada for Mossa my teacher. Cocadas are to Bahia what pralines are to New Orleans. Large rounds of shredded coconut with crystallized sugar. They come either white-white, caramelized in a deep mahogany, Pale pink with Guava juice or a light yellow from fresh pineapple juice. I thought that this would be a sweet reminder of home for Mossa. We went up the Elevator and walked over to Senac (the state community college with a comprehensive food division) to register for the one day Dende seminar that I would be taking on Thursday. It looked promising with people speaking from culinary, agricultural and historic perspectives on how much the oil of Palm trees characterizes the foods and the region. My plan was to spend the day, Thursday, in the conference; hop on a bus for a almost two hours at 8:00 that evening for Cachoeira to catch the midpoint through to the finale of Festas de Boa Morte ([Boa Mortchee]-the festival of the Good Death). From there, I would come back to town, catch another bus to Gantoes [Gaantwaas] to witness my new friend Zeno's terreiro in one of their special ceremonies. Zeno is a direct descendant of one of the most powerful Mae de Santos in Salvador. He explained that when he initiated in Candomble, he was five years old, and they pulled him out of society for one whole year to learn the faith. "No one can do that today. If we are lucky we get them for one month. It causes problems, how will the culture grow strong and be passed on intact, without greater segments of time placed in the assimilation of the method and spiritual practice? This is how we are living, but it does not bode well". Hmm-it is hard to imagine, dropping out for a year of your life for ascetic reasons. We would probably have a much calmer, happier world if we would all try it.....(Obama can you hear me?).
Boa Morte. The festival was started long ago by women for women. They were protesting and trying to protect their elders who could not get access to freedom. They demonstrated on their behalf to set them free. It is alleged to be quite profound and symbolic, with its own set of foodstuffs. I heard that there is a fejioada without beans. (Fejioada is the national dish. An amalgam of slow cooked beans several types of sun dried meats and sausages, collard greens and farofa). Technically, the festival started at the end of July and continues until August 18th. I will see the crescendo, though I am told that I will be late for a key ceremony. The woman at the pousada I reserved a room at, said you need to come earlier to see the ______. Can't do it all.
Ok, back to last days and first evenings. Once we did our business in the Pelourinho we decided to go down the other exit to the gondola like car. We boarded a bus and went home. I had made arrangements with a cab company to pick us up and not run the meter. Good work if you can get it. The $70 Real ride goes down to $50 without a meter. On the way back to the apartment we got one last bag of fresh roasted Cashews and a Mango for the plane snack basket. At home, we made one last meal of roasted potatoes with wonderfully aromatic fennel seeds and rosemary from our locale spice vendor, a salad of shredded beets, carrots, onions and sliced cucumbers with a peppery spanish olive oil, and Senhor Levy's rotisserie chicken. yum. Of course when I went to confirm with Marcio, the cabdriver as he had requested, he swore that he had come by and we were not ready, so if we wanted he would send a trusted friend. But he had decided that the possibility of losing four hours work was too much for him. Cabs tend to be parked in well traveled corners waiting for fares instead of cruising for them. All drivers have cards to give you to arrange special excursions and airport drop offs. Well before Marcio's friend came, I found another willing driver. It was now 3:45PM. We got to the airport in plenty of time, which made me glad. I had been forewarned with horror stories of enormously long waits leading to missed planes at the connecting hub even though the layover was six hours and there was no storm to hold up either flight. As it was, we found our place in the queue and it snaked forward fairly rapidly. I took off for a moment to read the Arrival/Departures board. I found that I could not find Michele's flight. The board is funny, because it continually updates itself on 30 second intervals. The flights are grouped in segments by hour in military time, so your eyes have to adjust, readjust, make a mental note and then change it. After studying the board several times and asking an agent for help I was told that I shouldn't worry as long as we were on that line. Luckily, that is where Michele was situated. We checked in, walked to security and had a teary goodbye. It is always harder to be left than to be the one leaving. I made my way to the street, bought myself an acaraje and a coconut while I waited for the bus back to town. I later learned from Michele after she touched down at JFK that they had completely changed her flight numbers and that had she not been paying attention in Sao Paulo she could have missed the connecting flight. That by the time they announced the flight in English, she would have been a goner. Thank you Mossa.

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