Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Morning haunts.

Though still groggy, I woke up just before 7:30. I splashed my face awake and looked for coffee or something in the kitchen. Gunnert and Florian, the sound engineers from the Hamburg contingent had constructed a breakfast of tropical fruit and a jerry rigged muesli from Soy Milk, store-bought granola, whole grain flaked cereal, bird seed and nuts. I applauded and giggled at their combination of ingenuity and cultural retention. I shared part of it their booty while we discussed our various agendas for the day.

I left just after 8:30 and walked to the eastern edge of town up a steep hill through a grove of banana trees and another favela to find A Igreja de São Cosme e São Damião. Beautifully cut into a hillside, it was a grayish stone with a huge woven banner of the twins, Cosme e Damiao. These twins and their holiday on September 27, are another curious fusion in the synchronized culture.

The twin saints are alleged to have been Syrian circa 300 A.D., though whether or not they were Christian is still a question. Several stories/myths exist regarding their origin and demise. Some versions have them murdered by Romans three or more times (thrown from cliffs, drowning, stoning and burning) before dying as martyrs. The West African Yoruban culture, one of the cornerstones of the Baian- Afro cosmology, sees “Ibejis” or twins as major power figures. They materialize when needed to help children suffering from violence. These twin saints/friends of children (Cosme aka “the Florid” e Damião aka “the Popular”) have the ability to expedite any requests made of them in exchange for sweets and candy. Rappadura or molasses rich chunks of raw cane sugar were the first sweets made in offering to these twin saints. Platters of rappadura are now placed alongside drippingly sweet cakes, and bonbons. Today Cosme e Damião are the patron saints of Pharmacy, Barbers and Hairdressing; go figure.

At different times that day, bags of candy were thrown from trucks at people, into stores and house windows. I was struck in the back of my head with a small bag while buying some paper Saturday morning. Children, adults and seniors scream and scamper to grab the treasure or blessing for these twin saints.
Parishioner’s had gathered early to get a good seat for the 9:30 mass. Kids were running up and down the backstairs into the choir loft, giggling and cutting up. I checked out the scene, and asked when they would be serving their Caruru. After I shot some photos, I walked down through town to get to the stairs into Mae Analia’s favela.

She was sitting in her same child’s slingback chair by the door with a drawn look on her face. She had been having some renovation done to her bathroom and they had burst a waterline. She had not had water for hours. They could not start cooking until they had fresh water. They had been ferrying water from neighbor’s homes to flush toilets and boil some water for essential needs. We agreed that I would return at 2:00 PM.

I decided to walk across the river to Ana Claudia’s house. I could visit with her, and find out where her aunt, Mae Zelita was. She shrieked with glee when she saw me walking up the stairs from her porch. Her mother, two cousins a sister in law and her mother's two other sisters were making party favors for the party. It was her daughter, Ana Julia’s 3rd and her baby brother, Joao Victor’s 2nd birthday. They were riffing on a Disney theme complete with matching red and white polka dot cotton pique outfits and mouse ear headgear. Kidville would have been proud.

They had rented the abandoned train station, where a couple of guys had a cottage industry making a sweet aperitif liqueur, and decorated it with Disneyland scenes, 15 foot spiral clusters of rainbow balloons, card tables and videos. I had to laugh that here this family that was so tied to the roots of the culture and legacy of slavery was zooming into the proto-typical upper middle class toddler b’day trope. Shouldn’t they have played and danced samba for kids? Everyone was cute and all of the mom’s were way too anxious. The guy who was making hors’ doeuvres and frying them was an hour late. The kids had fun laughing and playing, being kids in this vacuous space; until Dad, Joao turned on the formulaic kid’s party dance videos. The children, obsessed with the images of happy kids on the screen stopped creating their own games and adopted the derivative option on screen. How many generations before this magic culture in Cachoeira is going, going;-gone? Yikes.

I had been the first to arrive. Everyone was 90 minutes late. I had stayed too long, brought the wrong gift, (a traditional children's natural lavender bath oil) and pissed off Ana Claudia because I did not stay longer or agree to sleep over. Her Aunt Mae Zelita hadn’t shown by the time I left at six. I had told Mae Analia that I would be back to see how to make the Caruru at 5:30. It was a twenty minute walk back to Cachoeira across the suspension bridge.

Back at Analia’s I put two and three together and realized that in a way she had not wanted me to see her process, just the result. Cooks are quirky about “their” culinary secrets. Luckily, as I walked into the house full of people, there were still a few steps to finish all of the dishes. After showing me what she had made, Analia called me into the living room to hear the traditional songs that honor the day.

The ritual for all Catholics is to place seven whole uncut pieces of okra in the stewpot for luck. The seven youngest children who can eat by themselves are sat together in a circle each having a full plate of Caruru in front of them. The crowd serenades them with good luck prayers and a Go-Fight-Eat cheer for their food to be chowed down. Once the seven children eat, the remaining young adults are fed, and then the adults.

Since Analia is a Filha de Iansan, she cannot leave okra uncut. All of the okra has to be cut in to four pieces, or in the sign of the cross for Male deities and for luck. The tradition suggests that in every neighborhood several mothers will make this meal for their families and the neighbors, so that everyone gets fed. Once the meal is eaten by everyone the devout will create a Latin prayer sing-out. The evening ends with an acapella Samba de Roda with a handclapped accompaniment.

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