Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stepping into town..

This time, I had my MP3 charged and I made it through all those kilometers of cane fields, now mostly for Ethanol with my own vibe, a few photos and the bristliness of the chubblove gal on my left. Arriving back in town, Cachoeira it all seems low key. I distinctly remembered being here the first time in August and being immediately smitten. For no apparent reason, I was ready to kiss the cobbles in the street. Again, I feel like this could be my home base. Hmm, this New York city kid in small town Bahia. (?). Curious, this was once the capital and really the home of the first major Portuguese sugar plantations. Maybe, I sense the rootedness of Afro-Brazilian/Afro-Indian culture.

I casually walked through town from the Feira to the Irmandade. Two sisters were stationed there to receive tourists and devotees who may want to say prayers in their chapel. One was crocheting when I arrived. We talked briefly. I asked for Mae Zelita. They weren’t sure if she was in town. After a moment, they remembered me; or said that they did.

I learned quickly that they were not directly involved with the Catholic holiday that I had come back for; A Festa de São Cosme e São Damião. I would have to dig deeper. They suggested that I go to A Igreja Apostolica Brasiliera, behind A Igreja do Monte. I should ask fro Bispo Don Roque Cardoso Nonato. There or A Igreja Matriz, the Mother Church nearby. I left word for Mae Zelita. They advised me to drop by tomorrow around two o’clock, if she was in town they would have her meet me. I would also find Ana Claudia her niece and my recent acquaintance from my last visit. Ok, see ya later, ciao.

Leaving the Irmandade I walked around the corner to the town visitor center, in search of Francisca. I had asked the sisters about my colleague, Francisca Marques, the local ethnomusicologist. Last trip Francisca had offered me a room in her place. This time, just as the last time, funds were tight. I could use the the bed or floorspace and I wanted to discuss the possibility of a collaboration with Francisca too.

The woman at the desk of the center was not familiar with Francisca. Just as I was turning to leave, she called out to a young man who was in the street, walking past her door, “Jose! Jose, por favor pode venir aqui adentro?….Voce conhece uma Senhora? Moments later, Jose and I were walking to the small historical museum where he worked part time. He knew Francisca. Vaguely, I thought that I remembered him from Salvador. “Hmmm, maybe not?”

Jose, he preferred Joseph wanted to speak English. We walked to his job, because he had still had work to do and he could not leave. Standing by the entry desk was a middle aged man, Grizi (yuup, Greazie). Grizi was a musician. He played Samba de Prato, Samba of the Plate. This style of Samba originated in Santo Amaro 20 miles away. Most people used a spoon or implement to strike or rub the rim of a ceramic plate as their instrument for Samba. Santo Amaro is also the birthplace Negro Fugido, Caetano Veloso and his sister, Maria Bethania; more on that later.

Grizi and I walked through town to Francisca’s house. He asked in the clothing store next door to her front door, if they had seen her today. “Not for hours, but knock hard she works in the back of the apartment.” He rang the bell, knocked, called out, and tapped the door with his keys for thirty minutes in trying to raise her. I thanked him, and sent him on his way after he invited me to his concert the following evening in Muritiba. Cool.

After waiting around 20 minutes I decided to buy an organic cold remedy and wait until she returned. I got my stuff, found a café and sat there for nearly an hour without being asked to buy anything or leave. Small town realities… I went back to her spot, someone had come home; but not her.

I walked a few blocks to the Feira to buy a piece of fruit. I stopped to ask the time at the first barraca I found. By the riverbank they had a mobile cart serving beer, coffee and snacks. They also had a cage filled with two, no three Macaco monkeys, (about the size of a squirrel) they had found one injured, nursed it and made it a pet. She was pregnant. Her child impregnated her, so now there were three. The newborn was 24 hours old. Shot some images, bought some grilled meat on a stick and watched the day retire into dusk.

I thought enough time had passed to check back on Francisca. This time I found Jose again. He was now on his way home from work. We talked briefly. “Porque você está aqui agora?” “…Caruru e São Cosme e São Damião,” I replied. He offered to bring me to a friend’s house, she was making some Caruru. I could speak with her. Caruru is a dense Quiabo or Okra stew that makes okra become its most slimy self. It is served usually with Farofa Amarella, White Rice, Brown Beans, Chicken, Iame and generally White Corn Hominy.

We walked through the feira across town and up into one of the favelas. I checked myself to see how quickly I had allowed myself to accept and trust this stranger. Cross fingers. Walking up steep stone steps in the dark I didn’t know it but this would be my weekend base camp. Jose’s friend, was his Mae de Santo, Dona Analia da Paz. She is also one of the sisters of the Boa Morte, (the Good Death). We had met before. She has had more than twenty years membership in the sisterhood. Analia was warm and friendly, though you can tell by looking at her that you shouldn’t cross her. I believe she said that she was almost 70. We found her sitting in a low slingback chair by the front door. As we entered she was in deep conversation with one of her sons and her fraternal twin daughters. Joao, 2 ½ , one of her grand children was working on running out the front door. She carefully looked me up and down.

I reminded her of another American, Samuel from San Francisco. “No, wasn’t I the one who gave her $10 in Agosto? Hadn’t we talked at the sisterhood?” I confirmed her suspicions and now I was family. We arranged to meet in the morning. She also hadn’t seen Zelita.

“Could I give her some money now for the Caruru? If I wanted to see it, she needed money to buy ingredients. A skim coat of a scam, yet the ragged saida Baiana, cum housedress that she had pulled up above her more than ample bosom and tied just tight enough to stay, yet expose a healthy portion of one breast, told me that money was dear. I gave her a $20 and watched her roll it tightly and tie it to the end of the waist-string of her skirt/dress. The other end had a roll of one or two $5 notes.

Jose showed me the Terreiro de Caboclo on the corner, decorating the house for tomorrow’s ceremony. Maybe I wanted to go, he suggested. Ok, thanks. Further up the hill in the dark he took me to the church he called Igreja dos Pretos; I forget the official name. Similar to the “Blue Church” in Pelourinho, this was a church made by slaves for their own worship, after-work. A white stone building at the top of the hill, with almost a Quakeresque simplicity soaring high ceilings, a interior cemetery beside the sanctuary and a larger one just beyond the front door. Inside, a barrel voiced man was giving teenagers an English lesson. We listened for a bit, until he gave them a break. He wanted me to come to his church, he was Evangelical. He had many history books of Cachoeira. I was anxious not to hear propaganda….we made a tentative date for tomorrow after lunch before he resumed teaching.

Now, it was close to eight o’clock. I left Jose and went back down the hill to town. This time I found Francisca, she was on her corner, getting ready to leave. She had a crew with her, Germans. Ethnomusicology students on a research project with their Prof. who was also a Paulista like Francisca. He taught between São Paulo and three German universities, Hamburg, Leipzig and Bremen. He had done his masterwork on the roots of Samba. He was bringing the students to see what changes had occurred 20 years later. They invited me to the Samba performance they had arranged to tape. I put my stuff inside the house. Now I had arrived.

No comments: