Friday, August 1, 2008

Looking for Biggie

I woke up a little worse for wear, always trying to be ready to keep flowing forward. Travel, disorientation, spotty sleep or the water was catching up with me. We ate a smple breakfast, granola, yogurt, coffee and the fruits from Barraca de Denis (an orange melon, mango, litchi, papaya & ). After following the email trails we decided to go back to Cidade Alta and look for Biggie, and another recommended resource Dr. Abreu who was a historian and his Fundacao Muau (a artisan crafts museum and support center for local artists). I wanted to locate as many folks from my list and make an introduction, before I left the city for the island of Itaparica and my residency at Sacatar.

We were now fairly well versed in flagging and catching the local buses. Salvador has a very comprehensive municipal bus system of standard sized buses that prowl the city with great frequency at all hours, it seems. One ride is $2 reals with no transfer. There is a discount pass for students and seniors. You enter from the rear cycle through a turnstyle at the top of the stair and grab a seat. The key is when a bus is approaching you have to read the destination district in large letters at the top of the windshield to recognize it as your local bus route. If you are not sure there is a legend of major stops, (+/-3 km apart) stenciled list just above the headlights and in front of the rear door in yellow paint. There are also luxury buses that seem to stop less frequently have reclining seats and cost $4. Quickly you need to learn which bus stops near to you which meets your needs. Either the terminus of routes is past your destination and the legend confirms that it will pass through the neighborhood you are seeking, or you can find the district you desire is inscribed in the legend. Generally, the buses don't stop at most bus stops unless you flag them down. This way they keep quick time. Thus, you have to become adept quite quickly with good long distance vision to ascertain if the next bus needs to be flagged to pull over. Luckily, most people are helpful and you can enter the bus and ask the money collector at the back if you are on the right vehicle. Often once you are on the bus will take off, even before the door is closed and if you have chosen the wrong bus you may have to jump off while the bus in in motion. Occasionally the money collector will yell to the driver to stop, slow down or reopen the rear entrance to let you off. Finally, if you were not getting off at a major stop (the equivalent of a Times Square), then you had to be acutely aware of your own stop and pull the cord in time, since the likelihood was that the bus wouldn't generally pull over there unless someone else was at the curb flagging them down. This ritual was repeated several times daily. Getting to the Pelourinho, Mercado Modelo, (City crafts market), ferry pier were easy since they were all within earshot of each other and at a major stopping point for tourists and locals.

So, we took the bus to the Cidade Baixa and to the Lacerda Elevator to the Cidade Alta. If I hadn't previously mentioned, the historic district sits above today's commercial city and close to a port, marina and naval station. In the 1880's the colonial system of a lift for the elite engineered with ropes and pulleys and operated by slaves was replaced with a more formal mechanized elevator on one side of town and a pulley system steel car for cargo, similar to a ski gondola a short distance away. GE helped to provide electrification in the 1930's, and this mode of travel was copied in Rio and Lisbon. Today there is a bank of four express elevators with two in motion in either direction until 11PM. The fare is five cents. I guess that that pays the wages for the elevator operators.

Enroute to find Biggie, we listened to a few discs of Maysa's music at a local Music store near the Praca de Se. Mossa, my Portuguese teacher in NYC, is also an amazing singer with operatic training and a style that encompasses free jazz, regional Brazilian and Middle Eastern song forms had turned us on to Maysa. She seems to fit into that 50's moment of prime Ella, Sarah, Peggy Lee and Xavier Cougat kind of jazz/popular vocals. She married well, so her husband fronted her career. Maysa was quite eccentric in her personal style and visionary in her producing and packaging herself. With the lack of record stores today, I knew that she would not be easy to find in NYC. But after listening for 30 minutes I had too many riches and couldn't decide which disc to purchase. We split and resumed our search, walking towards the main square

We were looking for Rua Gregorio Mattos, and no one seemed to know it. Curious for a relatively small community, even though the district was a rabbit warren of alleys, dead end streets, cathedrals and plazas. The first two people we enlisted both told us to head away from the Pelourinho, in the directions of Shopping Lapa. We walked and walked leaving the historic district behind relatively quickly. We traversed a commercial neighborhood & working class ghetto whose tall buildings shielded the sun from the street. We found two beautiful churches along the way, but couldn't find R. Gregorio Mattos. After several attempts we were directed to Fundacao Gregorio Mattos. We walked inside and found a plexiglass shielded reception area. Through the plastic we inquired for Biggie. The woman stopped and thought for a moment, and asked if he was tall, I said yes; assuming that Biggie was literally a giant. 8 minutes later a distinguished looking man appeared, almost 2 1/4 meters tall. We spoke briefly. His nickname was Biggie to his close friends, but he was not at all who we were after. We all laughed as he told us that the R. Gregorio Mattos was in the bowels of the Pelourinho. With that failed attempt, I decided it was better to pursue our second contact than retrace our steps for Biggie at this point. Walking up a sharp hill we entered a more working class neighborhood, with street hawkers analagous to Canal Street in lower Manhattan. I saw a cathedral at the top of the hill and wanted to check it out, even though it seemed to be on the opposite fork than our desired path. The church Sao Bento was quite beautiful with a high carved wooden ceremonial screen just inside the foyer of the church several Retablo of key aspects of the Christian story rendered in gold, semi precious stone and marble. As we left the church I saw across the avenue that there was a store of handsewn lace fabrics focusing on clothes for Orisha ceremonies. We walked inside to take some images of the ceremonial clothing. After admiring it, I ended up buying a shirt with lace axes for Xango (recheira [?]).

Resuming our search for Dr. Labreu and Shopping Lapa we walked through a feira or farm market just after the lunch rush. This one, Sete Portas (seven doors) was the smaller of the two city markets. As we would come to observe these markets had all manner of fruit, produce, meats, fish, live poultry, artisanal prepared foods and standard dry goods, clothing, hardware and culinary implements. We stopped briefly to photograph the displays at various stands. Being drawn in by the vibrant colors I navigated through several different jars of pickled peppers that had been put up by the woman who ran the stand, before buying a bottle of medium hot finger peppers. Back on the trail, walking and asking directions, after another 30 minutes we found Shopping Lapa. Set in between a confluence of small streets this urban mini mall had food stalls, small stores and some produce. At this point I realized that this was only a major directional point to get us close to the right side of the appropriate neighborhood. Michelle was losing her pep. Persevering, I asked some news sellers for more directions and we made our way to Rua de Mouraria. Another twenty minutes and many blocks later we found our goal. The doorman informed us that the Foundation had moved (my friend in NY had thought that change was in the offing) and Dr. Abreu had just left. Please note that for some people I had addresses, for some addresses, phone numbers and email. But, after having left messages and emails I had decided that for those folks who operated within an organization or foundation, it might be worth it to see these spots and find the contact or leave word. Michele was too through. I was hot and tired. We had not eaten a real lunch, and were now in a strange neighborhood not close to landmarks we knew and rush hour was coming quickly. We walked several blocks through fairly vacant alley streets in silence and exasperation. I had been so overwrought, I had forgotten to leave word for Dr. Abreu.

We had to circle back towards Shopping Lapa to catch the bus. When we got to a bus stop, waiting and watching we realized that none of the names or routes seemed familiar. After ten minutes we asked some local women, who seemed to indicate that we needed to cross the avenue, and that the bus would circle around and head back towards Barra. We crossed the street, waited and again no results that seemed familiar. Asking again, we realized that their was a hub station beyond Shopping Lapa down a large stair under an overpass. When we found the spot, we were in an outdoor version of Port Authority. I guess forty bus lines stopped here. There were some typical shops catering to people in between buses, several street vendors with the ubiquitous individually wrapped candies, bon bons, gum, etc, peanut vendors, soda, beer, popcorn, etc. It took a moment to find our route, but once there we got the bus and got home fairly quickly. Whew. When we got off the bus, near the small former colonial fort, that sat on the beach near our apartment I chuckled quietly. As we had stepped onto the street I realized that part of the construction that we had walked by several times before included the installation of the new home for Fundacao Muau. I had never read the marquis above the scaffolding. Argh.

Yesterday Eneida had invited us to another opening. This one was also part of the August celebration of photography at Goethe House. We nixed it in fair of a cold chill. Biggie would have to come later. I was going to have to find my muster, because tonight I had to see Dona Valdina.

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