Monday, September 1, 2008

Jogo com Arroz

Sweet elfin devil, Rahul had engaged some local teens to help with his installation and teach him Capoeira. He had arranged for his second class, late Saturday morning, 30-Aug. He invited me to join in. Junho came early around 9:15, with a friend, Bodoggie. There was a time conflict, since we had agreed to go to the town market to shop for dinner. We decided to take a walk on the beach and take class at three PM. Nathan accompanied us.

Our side of the Bay is quite curious. We have a dock and small beach on property. Beyond the dock is a wide sand bar nearly one mile in length and probably one tenth to one quarter mile wide. At different spots it includes parts of the coral reefs that surround the island. Ebb tide can seem eternal, and providing a new beach experience for me. Typically kids play in the sand, and young women sunbathe with moist sand underneath them in contrast to the baking sun. Teens and adults run, play soccer and Capoeira on these temporal fields. Fisher-people, men and women, walk out into the reef gathering shellfish for dinner or wages. Some men walk past the bar with nylon nets pulling in a variety of small fish.

We walked and watched people gather Siri, a small malleable blue shelled crab, similar in shape to a Chesapeake. There were also Caranguejo, a harder shell black crab with large meaty pincers and sweet flesh. Occasionally we found Caranguejoes da Africa, a ruddy spotted variety that the boys said were seldom seen her. There were also small ostras/oysters, Sururu/Black Mussels, Moluscos, a hard shell clam similar in shape to a Pacific Mahogany, Urchins and Starfish. Gingerly we traipsed in and around the stands of coral, discarded shells and rocks to chase a grab or photo. We spent an hour walking and goofing around. Nathan found a great opportunity to ply the guys with his nascent Portuguese in exchange for a few English words. I took many photos, drifting off on my own.

While heading back towards our dock, I spotted a cute young girl, Evelyn (Ay-Vay-Leenie) 9-ish in a small natural pool close to the shore. She had a float and red headed plastic doll, Barbie-like. I walked closer and found her submerging her doll and her face underneath the water for as long as she could hold her breath. I am not sure what secrets they shared, or possibly she was choreographing an underwater ballet....We had a short chat and I snapped a few pictures before I turned to find my friends. Suddenly, a scruffy late middle aged man stepped from behind a wooded gate. He had a raggedy straw hat on and was fixing his business back in his trousers as he called spastically for me to return. Not sure of what his intent was, or what his previous actions had been, I walked back in his direction. He also wanted his picture taken. I obliged him, including one shot of the two of them in the same frame. Thanking him, I put my camera down and began walking. Again he yelled at me. This time he cried out for money or food, insisting that his image had value. "I am a friend of her father." I wasn't sure how that strengthened his case; " Help me out-Agora." I showed him a shell and a stone as my only currency and stalked off. I was enervated by his insistence and desperation.

I found the guys on the lawn drinking water and talking shop. Junho aka Arroz or Rice said that he would bring a few more friends with him later at 3:00. Probably Chino and Correira, maybe Cenouras in addition to Bodoggie. Feijoes aka Beans if he was around. In keeping with the tradition all of the Capoeiraists take pseudonyms. Rice, Beans, Carrots, Chino-for his almond eyes, etc. Originally, when the martial art was illegal it protected them from police reprisals. Telling the cop that the alleged perpatrators were Rice and Beans stymied investigations, adding comedy to an anxious moment. Later, when I asked who was named Toucinho, Bacon to go with Arroz e Feijoes they laughed. Rahul and I were dubbed Cebolla e Alho before the day was over.

Four of them showed up at three. Feijoes and Cenoura could not be located. Bodgogie was the oldest and tallest at nineteen and at 15, Chino was the youngest. Between them they had nearly twenty years experience of playing or Jogando Capoeira. Correira acted as our instructor in the beginning, with Arroz providing supplemental commentary. Bodoggie went off on his own to work on his form. Within twenty minutes we split up into pairs, Rahul got Chino and I, Correira. Arroz worked between both groups. We learned elemental posture, arm and foot movements, before attempting hand stands from a stationary pose and then a frog like walkover with both arms and legs akimbo. I was challenged by both new moves, and fell apart when we reversed them to our left sides. Rahul, caught on more quickly. Periodically they stopped to define the tenets of the form; how like Tai Chi, it was quite lethal though not used for fighting. Hence the idea of Playing Capoeira.Their instruction digressed into an exhibition of form. They dared each other to attempt more and more challenging, flips, aerials and acrobatics on the lawn and in the shallow water. I shot some video, we all laughed and built new bonds.

They invited us to their academy for a Roda da Caopeira, sort of a match that occured every Saturday evening for all student levels. The roda was the culmination of each week's training sessions. Arroz picked us up after 6:30, so that we could skip the youngsters session. Their master or coach was a warm and nurturing woman, 40-ish,Omara, (we never learned her pseudonym) and her young assistant a taut mass of sinew and muscles named, Perigrosa aka Danger. The orchestra de Berimbau accompanied the Roda. In addition to the three different Berimbaus, there were Atabaque- or wooden drum, Caxixe rattles, Tambourine or Pandeiro and doublebells or Agogo. Melodies were clapped and sung by the student audience. Afterwards, I asked Arroz to repeat some of the songs so that I could understand them. Generally, they told a tale of how you came to learn how to play Capoeira.Some songs had a humourous ending; and most reiterated the relevance of Capoeira to slave and Afro Brazilian culture.

The students, teens and young adult men and women, sat in around a large circle on a concrete floor in white outfits, watching two people at a time spar. You greeted your opponent with hands clasped in prayer and then moved into a static posture, balancing on one hand, legs extended, etc. The band was stationed at the noon position of this circle. As each participant finished they sat at "six o'clock and each person on either side of the band got up to spar. Almost every student also took a turn at the bandstand too. This way you "played" with everyone in the group, included the masters, whether you were at their level or not. Occasionally one of the coaches would interrupt for a brief instruction or critiscm.

The Roda took on a quality of an evolving performance as the skill and tempo increased according to the master's calls. I shot more video, though I kept running out of film just at the right combination of players. We were invited to return any Saturday, to be included in their afterparty at a bar for drinks and dancing, (our guides were too young for this activity), and to come to training sessions twice a week. I will try and practice, though I have miles to go before I could "play" with them. Tonight we elected to walk home with the teens and get some more studio time in before bed.

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