Friday, October 17, 2008

Bela, Boris and Hannah

Hannah had had at least one final plan cooked up together. Now that she and Melaquides were “an item” she wanted to share him a bit, step out together. They had just come back from a quick camping trip to Chiapada Diamantina, a major park, kinda Grand Canyonish for Brazil. She had suggested that we get up early go to São Joaquim market for the view and trinkets to bring home and meet Mel for lunch at his mom’s house in Liberdade. I asked Hannah if I could include Kathy? Tracy is not a shopper.

The street meeting was a bit choppy, but we worked it out, and were in the market before 11 AM last Saturday. We got a quick, cheap breakfast of freshly squeezed tropical juices, some with vitamin supplements, cheese bread, tapioca cake and coffee. Overall the market turned out to be quite and tame, running against type. We weren’t sure if it was the economic downturn resonating around the globe, beach day for the locals or what. It was just off.

The best moment for me happened in the butcher's area. I was shooting offal and odd bits, when a woman motioned for me to shoot her cow's head, making sure that she hold it up high and get a place in the pic. I shot one or two images and then she moved the head to hold it between her and her coworker. When I was done she called out across the din something I couldn't catch. She ran around her stall and asked to see the images. She laughed more and more at each image. In the end, she looked at me, at my camera and back at the cow head. Pointing to a low table between us, she asked, "How about a fish head for the photo?" "What?" You got your picture, give me some money, buy my fish heads and make soup. I have to eat too." I begged off and ran after my girlfriends.

Hannah found some reasonable gift options and I bought some items for my offering to the sea project. Both Kath and Hannah elected to buy some Orixa beads for friends and family. I laughed to myself as they each described various friends and family members’ personalities in hopes of zeroing in on the appropriate match with an Orixa. I have some knowledge but profess no skill there. The stall we chose to shop in had a nice selection of beads and a helpful attendant who kept relying on an unseen owner for advice. Kathy suggested that I speak directly to the Dona. I felt that we had initiated a protocol that needed its follow through. It was a laughable abstraction.

We tied up our business, shot some pics and made our way down the street to look for some flowers as a house gift and find Mel. The morning heat, then a brief but soaking rain arrested our flow. We elected to sit on the edge of a crumbling hillock that abutted a wan stretch of waterfront adjacent to the market. Unfortunately it turned out to be the local piss place for men and young boys alike. I even saw the dutiful mom, pull down her young sons pants and underwears to help them let it flow. Mel hopped off the bus, arriving a bit late from class. We walked to the final gondola, to Liberdade.

The house he grew up in was a short walk from the station and the bust of Mandela erected after his visit to the neighborhood. The house, a two family, with the internal stair cutting a triangular solid in the middle of Mel’s mom sitting room was narrow and utilitarian. The walls were pastel greens and aquas with a footprint of a garden in the back. His mom shared the house with her sister and brother-in law. His mom and aunt were elated to have company. They really were glad to have a visit from their son and nephew. Hugging and kissing each other at the door, the two sisters looked like Mel’s siblings not his elders.

They set us up at the dining table while his mom finished cooking and his aunt made busy with her own projects and hair-setting. I stepped into the kitchen to chat with his mom, an alleged great local cook. I took one look at the pot bubbling gently on the stove and chuckled. Earlier that week, Hannah, Mel and me had been together as they discussed their camping trip. Originally she and I had been scheduled to travel together.

I had run across a Public TV special on the region that used food as a way into the geography and the culture. I had made notes some of the dishes to look for on our excursion. I quizzed Mel to see if they were dishes he enjoyed. He knew them and liked them, but his favorite Lençois plate was Galinha com Molho Pardo. It sounded vaguely familiar, for a moment; then-yup, Savio. That was the dish he had cooked for me years ago in NYC. Freshly killed chicken and potato stew with a sauce made from the chicken’s blood.

Of course Hannah immediately stated how she would be having nothing to do with a bloody dish, etc…..Now, I watched as Mel’s mom seasoned that same dish for our lunch. Quietly, I asked Mel if he knew what we were having to eat? “Não tenho nengum idiea, Scott. Porque? Pois, Mel…eu acho que não podemos falar sobre isso.” –I have no ideas, Scott. Why. Mel, I think we have to keep it to ourselves, go look in the kitchen.

He burst out laughing and then shushed himself. The table was set as we looked at some of his early paintings. Pretty blue glass plates were filled with steamy rice, potatoes and the chicken parts in the ruddy sauce. It was an instant hit with everyone. I toyed with Mel and his mom, regarding our secret. They giggled quietly to themselves, and we all kept it quiet.

We took a few pictures of the three of them and then went to visit a teenage friend of Mel’s who had taken over a house nearby and turned it into a 60’s feeling crash pad, creative space. We hung out briefly watching an ad-hoc video these folks had ade in Chiapada before heading back up the hill and back to Itaparica. Kathy hopped a bus back to Barra. The three of us returned to Itaparica on the Lancha to catch Rahul’s collaboration with Capoeira Uniao.

Later, after the concert at dinner, I tugged at Hannah’s arm and said, “hey girl we are blood brother and sister now.” “Oh, Scott that is such a nice thing to say to me, as we get ready to split up. Thanks.” Hannah returned. “No, Hannah. You , me, Mel and Kathy. Lunch.” “What.” “Girl, the chicken; Galinha com Molho, don’t you remember the dish, Chiapada, the chicken and…..” –“Wait Scott. I loved lunch. That chicken was delicious. I could eat it again right now.” Great, Hannah. Now you can say you ate chicken blood. Yes.” “Scott, I liked that. If that is a blood sauce, I am in.” “oh,yeas you are, girl.” And we laughed over our bad dinner in the square..

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