Monday, October 27, 2008

The beginning of Goodbyes

Time tough. In a recent email, Danny suggested that I had the pre-Saudade Saudade in reference to a statement I had made regarding my displeasure over my imminent departure. Yeas, a deep, and moanful blue(s). Melancholia nervosa. I have many, many thoughts of this place I have begun to know, Baia do Todos Santos; Cachoeira, Itaparica & Salvador. I feel like my feet have sprouted interstitial root hairs, looking for a place to take hold, grow and come into flower.

It is by no means perfect. The poverty is omnipresent. But the culture and the manera de ser of the people is transcendent. As almas da gente da aqui, têm um sol reflechindo ao mundo. Que beleza; beleza. The soul of the people holds a sunshine reflecting out to the world. How beautiful; beauty.

Coming and leaving. I have looked up several times randomly and realize that I have found myself in places where I had began this journey. First, it was coming back to Rua Doutor João Ponde e Edificio: Paul Cezanne with Kathy and Tracy. The same apartment that Michele and I had rented in July and August.

Originally, I had planned to take a trip and travel to another region to see a new view and gather information from another point of reference. I am glad I stayed local. More things became evident as I became more and more familiar with Salvador. It may be a street corner that comes up out of nowhere, or a concerted effort to reconnect and say goodbye to a new colleague or budding friendship.

I had asked Danny what if anything did he need to be brought back to NYC? All he wanted as Valdina’s Pemba. A special chalkish powder. She harvests it once a year in late May or early June. It is dried and ground fine. Then it is used as an aspect of ritual practice.

I had decided to try and nail down all of the stuffs that I needed to bring home before I left for Cachoeira on Friday morning. I also thought that it would be a good idea to go to Tanuri Junçara, Valdina’s Terreiro. We had never managed to coordinate my visit during my residency. The Terreiro was close to her house in Engenho Velho de Federacao. Wednesday’s and Thursday’s they were open to the public.

I had had a full morning already running between Dois de Julho for an interview, Liberdade, Sao Joaquim and Mercado Modelo before coming to Federacao. I got the wrong cabbie from the Mercado. When I told him where I thought it was, he acknowledged that he knew where to go. To insure success, I borrowed his cell to call Tracy. He was able to give me the exact address that I had in my computer, Rua Apolinário Santana, #146. I looked down to check my notebook for something and then I saw that he went into the wrong part of the neighborhood. We had previously discussed where to enter this large district. At the next traffic jam, I jumped out and threw 10 reals in his lap, discounting money for his mistake.

Walking down the main avenue I passed a Manicure-Terreiro combo business. I guess you have to know that you can pay the rent. I asked a few blocks later and was asked which one of the three major Terreiros’ just ahead did I want? This group of women was not familiar with the name I had given, or my pronunciation of it. Then, one woman stepped forward from the group I had stopped and she said she had an idea. She pointed, explaining the location and landmarks to me before I continued on down the hill.

At the first doorway, she appeared again, and dissuaded me from ringing the bell. Let’s try the next one, she said. Suddenly, I had a partner. I knew already that the third one was Bodum, Urania’s Terreiro, so I was confident that middle choice would be Tanuri.

The heavy wooden door opened up to a large courtyard and driveway with a large, old tree in the middle of it, (memories of my Norwalk home). A carved, wooden plaque, was painted in primary colors: Terreiro Tanuri Junçara. The yard was ringed by a few two story houses and the Barracão or ceremonial room. A boy was folding clothes just inside the open second floor window on my right. I asked him for help and his mother appeared. She said that Valdina was probably at home, but I was free to look around, “Fica vontage a ver o que voce quer.”

I stepped into the dark, squarish room, stacked with chairs and other stored items which suggested that they were in between ceremonies. A large image of Yemanja was the only décor. As I walked back into the bright midday sun, a thin, jet colored man appeared to greet me. He had a halting Portuguese that I had to work on to comprehend. He led me to each offertory shrine, and each house of Orixa, explaining who was being honored. Since I had never been to a ceremony here, I had not realized that it was Angola or Fon Terreiro, until he explained that if I was Ketu, I would call it this name in Ioruba and if I was Nago-Jeje I would call it that. The layers and interconnections run thick and deep. I took one picture and left to find Valdina.

Ten minutes later, I walked through the back door of the ad hoc thrift shop into the yard that her house shared with half a dozen others. She was home and just as I had found her, at her computer. Her head wrapped in a beautiful coil of fabric. She had a long short sleeved cotton shift, decorated with a bit of lace. Funny she said, after we embraced. I had just returned your email, when you walked in.

We talked for a bit about my research, and she invited me to a Palestra, she called an Abara. I guessed that they borrowed the name of the steamed amalgam of ground black-eyed peas, ginger, Dende and grated onion wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf as a metaphor of the joining of ideas involved with culture, politics and food. Unfortunately, it would occur while I as in Cachoeira.

I sensed in this conversation how she was renewing her invitation of welcome to her community and culture. We laughed together when I asked for the Pemba. She told me that everyone who comes from NY to Salvador is required to bring back Pemba for Danny. He’s gotta have it. Shrewd dog. She wished me well and we both looked forward to my return.

This time I found a cab who knew how to get to where I was going. When I walked up the ramp to the driveway of Paul Cezanne at 3:00 PM, Henrique, Tracy and Kathy were anxiously waiting for me. I ran up, grabbed my things, shut down my computer and said goodbye to this oasis. Henrique dropped me and my stuff at Zeno’s and took Kathy to the airport. I had to switch gears and go back downtown to São Joaquim and meet the TVE crew for my interview on connections between African-American and Afro-Baian foods. Time was tight.

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