Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tres vistas of the Blue Church, A Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos

Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks was built by slaves for their own religious observance. Construction was begun in1704. The slaves built the church, “after work”. Their masters sanctioned this extra-curricular activity since they saw church as a worthy activity, bringing God and salvation into the lives of the slaves. The church was finally completed in 1765. It is characterized by a Roccoco façade, painted a soft larkspur blue. Beautiful twin towers punctuate the exterior. Inside the walls are adorned with Portuguese Azuelo blue tiles depicting various biblical scenes, Neo Classic Altars, a ceiling fresco, three sculptural images of black saints- of Our Lady of the Rosary, São Antônio de Cartegerona e São Benedito. Coptic style miniatures also illustrate scenes from the Bible. Finally, an ancient slave cemetery is set in the garden at the rear of the church property.

Two weeks ago, Lauri had suggested that we stay in town for the Tuesday night street party in the Pelourinho. I agreed as long as we did not sleep over, or take the 11:30 PM Ferry Boat. The Ferry accommodates vehicles and has a one hour trip time. The Kombi ride from Bom Despacho Terminal can be forty minutes. I did not want to get in at one in the morning. The Lancha, much quicker stops running at 7:30 PM. Lauri concurred with my ideas.

We both had full days planned in Salvador. We decided to meet at Terreiro de Jesus in the center of the Pelourinho historic district, around 6:15. Nothing was going on. We considered snacking on street food, but couldn’t come to terms with the best options. I began to suggest the blistered cheese on a stick with honey or oregano garnishes. The cheese sellers walk around town and on the beach with small cast iron crocks filled with red hot coals and a cache of skewered firm cheese. The cheese is set directly on top of the hot coals until it chars and softens. Great Gooey Goodness.

Just as I began to call the cheese man, two American princess tourists started arguing with him over pricing. I had heard his rate, and it was fair for the area. They were trying to score with their Portu-Spang-lish smug haggling and save probably $0.40. It ended up disgusting me, and I lost my appetite.
I began to walk towards the first Igreja São Francisco, there are three. This one is famous for its excessive décor; Baroque design on crack and acid. Consistent with its décor, it creates of heaven as a party yacht with champagne gurgling up from each faucet. The gold inside could sustain a small nation.

The story goes that the slaves were so angry at the excesses of the church and the demands required to complete work that they wrecked havoc on some of the interior images. Sure enough, some of the cherubs were pregnant, others had engorged penises, their nasty smirks or sniggers looked down at us from every vantage point.

We walked into the end of their midweek service, and were told that the doors about to close. I need to return to properly photograph the church. They do not allow flash photography and I had quickly shot some video; which needs help. Back on the street we headed down the hill to the Praça do Pelourinho, towards the Ladeira (or hill) do Carmo.

We quickly came up to the “Blue Church,” a synchronized offering Catholic Mass with African traditions and praise songs. The services added steroids to our North American 60’s Folk Mass format. I have never felt like church was a dance party. It seemed as if the walls were whispering, “Let’s get God, and then get drunk.” The sanctuary had a full house; a perfect Brazilian mixture of: congregants, community elders, tourists, after-work crowds still in their tight outfits, Gays and Straights, Blacks, Whites and us.

After some hesitation I decided to take the communion that was being initiated. My mother would have appreciated it. Their communion consisted of a cottony Pão de Milho, and instead of a sip of wine as a metaphor of the blood of Christ; a dousing of holy water. This “baptism” was in keeping with Africanist/Candomble sensibilities. The priest wielded a bouquet of special leaves that he dipped into a bucket of holy water then shook it saturating the backs of the willing. The man carrying the bucket of water had been lurking in the Cachoeira Boa Morte church and various bars in that town. I had taken several images of him. Eerily, the cross references here is always just around the corner.

We exited the church buoyed by the festive mood that the service had bestowed on all of us. I noticed a delicate cacao tree in the hallway of the church, its spindly bows full of pale green fruit. Spilling into the street we followed new amplified rhythms up the steep hill of Ladeira to the next churchyard several hundred meters away. Geronimo, a local Brazilian Rock-Reggae legend was starting a hepped up set.

The street vibe was good, though the overflow crowd hemmed us into a corner by the church gate. If you wanted to climb the steps and sit inside the yard, looking down on the crowd, you had to suffer a full body search by Guarda Civil. We toughed it out where we were, laughing as compact cars bucked the crowd to scatter allowing them to climb the too narrow cobbles to Carmo. I bought a Skol tall boy and called it dinner as we gyrated in our little nook.

I reiterated that we needed to plan our exit within the next 30-45 minutes. Before the set was complete we begrudgingly trudged down and up the hill towards the Terreiro de Jesus. We stumbled into a 20 piece youthful Bloco practicing their Afoxe with drums and horns. One more boogie before splitting.

Lauri decided to grab an acarajé, for the road. We trudged past the taxi stands, to take the Lacerda elevator to the Cidade Baixa, the lower city. We had elected to stick to the main drags and walk to the São Joaquim Ferry Terminal. By 9:15 I had not seen the topical graffiti that marked the beginning of the São Joaquim district. Now nervous, we crossed the wide boulevard to an open gas station. The attendant looked ashen and dismayed when I indicated our goal. “Não é longue, mais, não tem taxi perto e este barrio é muito peregroso! Cuidado.” -It isn't far but there aren't any taxis and this neighborhood is dangerous. Careful.

We f-d; I heard the rumble of the bus. We bolted back across the street jumping on the moving bus, only to exit a few stops later at the Terminal with eight minutes to spare.

I immediately fell asleep on the boat, happily missing the over indulgent tele-novelas that had everyone titillated. Fortuitously at Bom Despacho the first Kombi Van filled up before we got to it. We hopped on the second one. It turned out, that there were only two other passengers on board. We made it home within fifteen minutes. Early and under budget. Whew.

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