Monday, October 27, 2008
On Friday at the Irmandade, Valmi had suggested that I come back Saturday at ten to go with him to Mae Filinha’s house to see the cooking process. Everyone in Salvador had said that they were sure they would be serving Caruru. Valmi told me that she requested Feijoada. There was said to be no significance or metaphor in the choice of Feijoada, they did not have to feed Orixa, just honor Filinha’s wishes for her 105th birthday.
When I arrived just past ten the next morning Reunis was the Sister on duty. She came in while we were talking, Valmi, two of his four daughters and me. She changed into a lovely saia of red lace with a typical white lace blouse and head wrap. She has a wide, round face and tender eyes. Her gaze always suggests a tolerance and empathy for all of those people who cross her path. She greeted me, by saying,” Se chama uma pessoa atençao. Cada feo tem sua simpatico e cada bom tem sua elegante.” Attentive people see that we each have an ugly side that asks for sympathy and a good side that exudes elegance. A morning thought that would, or should have helped me later.
Valmi left me with Reunis and he went to get the carrosa or mule driven wagon. They intended to transport a refrigerator over to Filinha’s to store overflow food and drink for the party. He came back shortly, and suggested that I get a cab or motor scooter taxi to follow him. “Não podemos ir comjunto?" I asked. I wanted to ride in the cart. He loved that side of me. Twice he jumped off the cart, grabbed my camera and jogged ahead or stayed behind to make a photo-op with me as the focus. We fall in well together.
We probably could have ruptured our bladders riding in the cart over the cobblestones across town, but it was good, honest fun. Valmi introduced me to one Filinha’s daughters and sons and left to help with the Caravana da Musica e Deportes that was coming to town with Daniela Mercury. I took a seat in the open air Terreiro and began observing how unique and beautiful it was. Three middle aged black women were already sitting alongside me on the same bench . One of them had been introduced to me in the street just outside of the house. She had a kind face and elephantine calves. A pretty powder blue headwrap and matching dress, fitted at the bust and ample below to keep her hips under cover.
The other two started speaking at me in hushed tones, immediately. They were probing me to see how much Portuguese I spoke and understood. They wanted to converse about me, in front of my face. Not very pretty. What they did share were their names, Ayesha and Eunidis. They were both from the area near Feiras de Santana. Allegedly a powerful community with interesting terreiros, some of which were administered Gays and Bi’s. They were neither.
They had a vengeful look that worked its way into my skin like a slow cigarette burn to the groin. They needed to know if I had been made. “Está feito, voce? Acho que nao. Pois, estava vendo suas contas, e são mau feito pra voce. Quem jogou pra voce? I see your beads, they were not well chosen for you, who threw the cowries for you?"
Ele deve ser Iansa. Sim, estou do acordo. Iansa e Ogum, não pode ser Xango, e tampoco Iemanja. Sinto que não estava quebrada de cabesa.” Sim, de verdade. Tem razão. I wasn’t sure if I should answer their entreaties or play dumb. What can these folks see, really?" I put 2 and 7 together and realized that they must both be Mae’s de Santo. I didn’t conclude then that they were also Senhoras do Boa Morte. The conversation continued on like root canal without anasthesthia.
They were from the Casa Nago Viuduese, (no Jeje) . They both had Iansa. One carried Iemanja, and the other Ogum. The third woman , dressed in blue had been quiet up to now. She interjected that she also had Iemanja and Oxum. Sparks flew between them, in what seemed like a clinical vivisection of Scott.
Quinta Feira, 16:30 and counting.......
Luis had let me know that TVE was interested in interviewing me regarding my work on Afro-Baiano Cuisine back in mid September. He had thought that the connection would be a good one for me. Now it is nearly the end of October. Every week we play phone & e-tag with a new round of dates. How many times will we change the date? Some of the dates they have suggested are for after my departure. Mosaico was anal with details, and scripts. These folks just need me to be available. First we planned to be in a restaurant, just as before. Again I chose Feijão de Alaide, in the Pelourinho.
I spoke to one of Alaide’s cooks and tentatively set it up. Nope. That won’t do, we want to shoot at São Joaquim. Another cancelled date with Alaide, burn that bridge.
We are working without a script or outline. If I have a question, they suggest I email them. I like improv…yet, I also like a thread of substance too. I chose a final date, last Friday that wasn’t at an ideal time. I could live with it. Thursday evening I planned to meet Tracy, Ana Bia and Giovana for drinks at the bar next to Acarjé de Dinha in Rio Vermelho. Then Wednesday, they want to change to Thursday, even though it conflicts with my schedule. Bia & Giovana said that it was important and I should do it, we could rearrange our meeting.
I sent jpegs to each of them and to Tracy so that they could identify each other. I arrived at Sao Joaquim in a fast cab and proceeded to wait for nearly an hour. Caught in a NY neurotic spasm, I am not quite Baiano I guess.
Arriving back to Cachoeira Friday afternoon, I kept finding broken phone booths. On a whim, I walked to Francisca’s apartment/studio and Itamaraci was home waiting for me. I dropped my things and walked over to the Irmandade. I found Mae Analia & Valmi, the glue or maybe Ops director there. Valmi was the fulcrum in the education project that Francisca and I had discussed. We laughed a bit, catching up on all of our escapades.
I remembered to give Analia greetings from Luis Antonio and Vivaldo. She smiled and thanked me. Immediately she went into a personal Vivaldo reverie. “Ele e profundo e essential!--He taught me what I am singing. I know the songs, I learned the words when I was young. Listen, can you sing it?”…….She sang a few sacred songs and then told me how he shared that this song brought Xango into the room, or summoned Ogum to come listen to their requests. You will find what you are seeking with him.
Everyone has a story about Vivaldo. Now that I have met him, it is as if another door has opened. His power and knowledge are revered and his contributions to the culture are invaluable according to all. Analia said it is hard to keep knowledge inside your head, especially details. He has it all.
One colleague mentioned a spat over a parking space that endured longer than they thought it should have. Mistakes happen. Though, strong willed people can boil quickly. Another echoed previous sentiments of how much of a touchstone he is. I was in good hands.
He had been surprised how quickly I had found Analia e Filinha. You Americans he intoned……
Back in the Irmandade, Analia hit me up for some money for dinner. I guess this will pay for ingredients for the dish she promised to make when I come over Sunday morning. She wasn’t sure if she would be at the birthday party for Mae Filinha, maybe. I have sensed that like any club or group there are allegiances and petty jealousies. She hugged me and left to shop for dinner.
I was not sure what the nature of their Culinary Program was like. Last month during my interview with Vovo, the director of Ilê Ayé, he had suggested that I come observe it. I packed that away with my things to do when I am staying in Salvador. I guessed that it might be a vocationally based program, training the prep crew and ancillary employees as opposed to developing a cadre of cooks and chefs. Other than the fact that it was community based for Liberdade residents, how did it compare with the intensive program at Senac? I had been impressed with how comprehensive and affordable Senac’s program was.
Recently, several people including Beto at Pariaso had spoken well of it. I decided to do it before I left for Cachoeira. There were two sessions per day, 8:00-12:00 and 1:00-5:00. I decided to go on Tuesday after my morning errands. I would shoot to get there as close to one o’clock as possible. I arrived at 1:30 PM and asked for Gelson, one of Vovo’s assistants. He informed me that the teacher needed more warning, even if I was just observing. And he needed to reconfirm my authority to observe with Vovo. “How about tomorrow? 9:30?” “Sim, está bom, Escotch.” “Então, até amanha!” Kind of a bummer, but ok.
I was mixed into Gelton’s Welcome to Ilê Ayé Tour Group, until the culinary administrator, Elizete; Vovo’s Sister in Law could be located. The culinary classroom was appropriately clinical, all white tile and stainless steel, white smocks and hairnets. I learned that in addition to a Culinary Teacher they also had a Nutritionist on site.
Students first learned some general history of the development of man as a species, leading up to his alimentation. The course covered all aspects of cooking, not just Baian foods. Decoration and visual display of prepared foods was also stressed. I heard that aesthetics were important to, since we eat with our eyes. I knew that banquet service was an integral aspect of both home and professional kitchens. I guessed that banquet work was probably a key avenue to employment.
The term was twenty weeks, twenty hours per week, no more than 20 students per class, between 17-24 years old. Students were selected from the community, bright young lights, recommended by teachers, church leaders and community organizations. Tuition was free if you were accepted. During my brief orientation to the program, Elizete said, that If three students stick with it, graduate and find work, then she is happy. We agreed that regardless of the outcome, the discipline, continuity, effort and knowledge involved with culinary education would inform their lives and career choices.
Today’s class prepared a whole baked fish, Amarella. It was accompanied by Rice, Molho de Pimenta, Farofa and salad. I guessed that the Nutritionist tried to inject some healthy alternatives to the popular fried foods and rich meats inherent in the local cuisine. While the fish was cooking part of the class began to prep tomorrow’s lesson. They simmered a whole octopus and cleaned shrimp for the seafood Mariscada and cut okra for Caruru.
The gender ratio of the group was 2 young men: 17 young women. I asked Elizete about this skew, since I already knew that women had a real glass ceiling in the local food scene. Truthfully, one boy was a pretty boy and scared of his shadow, while the other might not have been breathing.
She acknowledged that finding employment was tough for women, really hard for all students. But, the boys would find work. The girls often worked for small Mom & Pop operations, started their own cottage businesses or became better home cooks. I asked her if she was familiar with the Incubator project in the center of the state that gave intensive and comprehensive training to women in Candy Making with local fruits, allowing them to come away with a home based business. She knew of it, but it was one dimensional. She trained for all phases of culinary work.
I shut my mouth, gratefully took the plate I was offered and sat down at her desk to have lunch with her. The meal was good. Elizete asked me to say a few words to the students regarding what I had observed. I thanked them, asked briefly about their motivations to study cooking and applauded their efforts.
Long distance running. Filling in the blanks, holes in my agenda, tourist shopping and one interview were my goals. I keep asking myself, “Why can’t I lose weight from all of this walking on cobbled streets?”
I left home just after nine on Wednesday morning to finally talk with Professor Jefferson Bacelas at CEAO, (Centro Estudios Afro Orientais, http://www.ceao.ufba.br) We had previously arranged to meet last Friday, until I had received the call about Junior’s mom.
The week before I had sought him out, after Claudio, the film Professor had recommended that I speak to him. He shared an office with two people, a Baiana and an American, who administered an international exchange program for college students to CEAO. Matt, the American, seemed like the perfect subject for Molly’s book project that I am trying to help with. It could mean some lucrative freelance work and good contacts for back home. She needs recipe development with particular themes and demographics.
Jefferson was also a colleague of Vivaldo. Vivaldo had helped found CEAO as well as IPAC, ( ).We hit it off well. Selfishly he seemed to revel in the ability to talk shop with someone who basically knew the score. We sparred briefly, comparing and haggling over relative strengths of academic research and historical materials available in our respective countries. He felt that we were far superior in the scope of documented materials detailing the Colonial history of Slavery: our own and the general global scene.
I asked if part of this could be a result of climatic deterioration of original source materials. He thought it was a more about our culture of inclusion. We agreed to stay in touch. He was curious as to how I was making out with Vivaldo. I was content. I asked if he had many students focusing on History via Food Studies. Very few. It was always just an aspect of a larger work. He seemed like another person who was not quite in the right fit, if that existed for him at all. Teaching history was enjoyable, but his focus was food, and he stressed not Food Journalism and Home Décor.
I left close to noon and grabbed some lunch just off of the Largo. I went back to a place Urania had tried to take me to, one Saturday morning. It turned out to be an old haunt of Amado’s, Porto Moreira. The walls were plastered with old and new clippings, celebrity citings; writers, film makers and folk musicians, not Hollywood types. The Galinha com Molho Pardo was excellent. The unctuous sauce had a great napping consistency and a tangy vinegary finish. As always prices were ridiculously cheap.
My next goal was to stop in at Fundação Gregorio Mattos for some research materials if they had them, São Joaquim for some of Viterino’s hand painted unglazed tiles, (Eneida’s recommendation), Liberdade for Ilê Ayé’s culinary program, Cabula to pick up a Oxum doll at Ilê Axé and stop in at Paraiso Tropical to see the garden/or just thank Jorelma for her help. Ready?- go!
I peaked down into the valley of Barroquina and the “leather church” Tracy had enjoyed photographing. The nickname comes from all of the artesan leather goods people who line the steps down to the church. Shortly thereafter I had a few snapshots, two pairs of slippers and pony sandals. Yes, pony. All for $45 reals. The Fundação yielded no fruit. They suggested Casa do Benin. I sidetracked there, and amidst the beautiful African art, I found a good book for Mossa, but not what I was looking for.
Regrouping a bit, I hiked up the Ladeira do Carmo, and asked in at a few Pousadas in preparation for next week with no roof. I found rustic charm, quiet streets and a great view for a higher price than I wanted to pay. I took the Carro Inclinado down to Calçada and a bus to São Joaquim.
Viterino and his tiles were a great find. He and his spouse were playing something like Bridge or Bid Whisk on an old piece of wooden paneling straddling their knees. Viterino’s head was down concentrating on his cards. He looked like his eyesight was poor from all of the repetitive fine brush work. Another fellow, middle aged and swarthy attended to me. Every time I wanted to see another design motif, they had to lift their makeshift table, one of them had to stand up to find and pull out a carton of samples. The space was littered with ceramics waiting to be sold.
When it came to pricing my booty, suddenly Viterino perked up and observed me. “How I had found him? Was I an architect? Another architect had taken many designs already.” I wondered, did I get a better price if I passed the grade? We bartered a bit, and when we made our deal, his wife-partner interjected flashing few teeth but a keen savy for numbers. She questioned his pricing for me. Then he brought out the catalogs identifying him as a local treasure. In the end, I got my price.
I asked for a small bowl for cooking Moqueca , and she brought out a beautiful one that was 28 inches across not including the fish head and tail on it. I said it was great and thoroughly impractical for international travel. As she went to put it back the tail came off in her hand. Oops. She needed more revenue from me. “How about this, and….?” I agreed on a small Moqueca bowl and my tiles, 24 total for $50 reals. Their assistant wrapped them in newspaper, boxed them and created a carry handle with twine. I was done.
I was walking to the Carro Inclinado up to Liberdade when I saw a great Xango figurine three feet tall. I stopped to photograph it, at the Casa de Yemanja and picked up some contas as gifts. The owner moved my box from a stool to his counter as he climbed up to pull the contas down from their display. The box was poorly positioned and crashed to the ground. I cursed under my breath. He assured me it would be fine, unwrap them at home, and let him know. Now anxious, I left quickly, got up to Liberdade bussing and walking to Ilê Ayé, only to be turned away until tomorrow.
The steep hill down from Rua Curuzu intersected with several bus lines. I made it to Ilê Axé just after four. Today, Wednesday was Xango’s day. I already knew that the store and museum were consistently open on Wednesday’s, and sporadic on other days of the week. Since they were having a ceremony today, the woman who ran the museum had Obligacões, and had only worked for a few hous in the morning. I could come back next Wednesday, or Thursday. No. I can’t,….hmmm. That went nowhere. I decided to just go home, skipping Paraiso altogether.
I walked in the door, one hour later, close to 5:30, the time we had agreed on to leave for the ceremony at Ilê Axé. I chugged a beer, pulled my box up onto Kathy’s bed to go through the tiles with her. 75% were broken. F ck. She extracted four and I now had to navigate my next steps. I put everything together, separating out the remaining intact pieces, changed my shirt and got ready to go with Tracy and Kathy to the Terreiro. It would be Kathy’s first ceremony.