Friday, October 17, 2008

Lion out of water

Yesterday I made an essential contact in the next round of research I need to make. Sacatar has ended for me. I have moved back into the apartment I had occupied when I first arrived with Michele. This time my dear friends Kathy Sloane and Tracy Collins are renting the space. They have come for several weeks to visit and photo blitz Salvador. Graciously, they have made room for me. We have had some wonderful shared times and friends.

I had met Zeno during my second week in Salvador. Once he met me he immediately advised me to attend a conference at SENAC culinary school, entitled, Seminario de Dende and to look for Dr. Vivaldo da Costa Lima, a cultural anthropologist with a specialization in culinary studies. The Seminario was excellent. I then spent two and one half months trying to find a liaison for Dr. da Costa Lima. His books most relevant to my research were out of print, making this investigation truly abstract endeavor.

Last month Dr. Lima was profiled in the Sunday Style magazine, which I had mistakenly thought might yield some fruit. We were able to find his editor, but there was some hurdle to overcome the protective bubble she had around him. I learned that he was an Ogan at Ilê Axé Opo Ofonja. When I went to meet Mae Stella and see the Terreiro she was out and nobody had a good idea on how to locate him. The librarian had suggested that I try UFBA (Universidade Federal da Baia) where he was professor emeritus. Unlike most American universities there was no faculty web page on their site so, that was a real dead-end.

Finally after attending a ceremony at the Terreiro I saw some of the local socio and politically active folks who should have his ear. One of the speakers at the Dende seminar, restaurateur, Luis Domingo advised me to contact, Jurabeba. Anxious to get it right, I asked him to write the contact name down in my pad, Jurabeba Leão do Norte. Hmm. I quickly showed it to Augusto, who burst out laughing. He told me that I had been duped. I was perplexed. What was he referring to….. “Escotchee, Jurabeba is a drink, sweet, strong and old fashioned.” Yet, another let-down. I sat on his words for a half hour and then decided that something was askew.

I went back to the office and asked, “Augusto, can we dig a bit?” “Porque, escotch? “-he replied. I just did not think it was a ruse. When we did a web-search it turned out that his father had started producing this drink in the beginning of the 20th century. “Ok, now we’re cooking.” Augusto called the plant and a secretary quickly dispatched the cell number for Vivaldo’s brother the GM of the business.

Augusto, trained as a lawyer is an appropriately business like professional. He informed the Jurabeba receptionist that she shouldn’t give him the number. It would be better if she took our number and asked the brother to contact us. Otherwise we would compromise his privacy. It took another week to break ground. The triangle of our initial email to his editor, followed by several phone calls with her and now the message relayed through his brother elicited a return call from his office, early Monday afternoon. This was the official end date of our residency. Hmmm, I, we were to call his office the following afternoon. Well in the middle of the day we had the crisis of Rahul’s leaving which will come out later.

I ended up leaving in a rush late in the day, a bit crazed. I received an email the next morning from Luis, that Vivaldo had decided I should be in his office Thursday at 11:00 AM. He had an appointment at ten with a writer/former student who was finishing a book on Candomble Banquets. He was requesting that Vivaldo write the preface to his book. Vivaldo thought that I should arrive while he was there to network a bit. “Oh…” Augusto hesitated, looking for the words. “He told me not to use the word, D-i-a-s-pora. He hates it. That was one of the reasons he did not respond quickly. Don’t forget.”

Through Augusto I arranged for Sacatar’s Salvadoran cabdriver, Henrique to pick me up at 10:15 at Joao Ponde. I went downstairs that morning at ten to be ready for him. Of course, my cell was still malfunctioning and uniquely Henrique the master navigator had gotten lost. We played phone tag, me on the phone card at a booth near the corner. Time was getting tight. Where the hell was he now? He had just said, he was nearby. .. I put my card back in the slot at the booth to call, and suddenly the phone rang, the LED screen flashed returning call-Ligação Retornando. It was Henrique. I gave him a new landmark, and he picked me up a few minutes later.

When I showed him the address Vivaldo had forwarded to me, he didn’t connect to the locale in Pituba. We called into Augusto, a taxi-driver friend and a dispatcher; none of whom offered resolution. It was now 10:57 AM. By 11:05 we were in the hood, and a few locals clued us in. His street had an entrance gate and deadended abruptly. The house was walled like many middle class private homes I had been to here in town. I saw the ubiquitous sign on the door, Atenção: Cãos Perigrosas-The two lap dogs barked as I rang the bell at 11:15.

The office was tight, high ceilinged and crammed with bookcases. Vivaldo sat behind a small desk in front of the only window. To his left was a small secretaries’ desk, I assumed for someone to take dictation and calls. Two men had their backs to me as I entered. The one speaking, thirty-ish with corn-rows was discussing the details of his book. I pulled up the remaining chair and saw that the fourth man was Claudio, the projectionist for Kathy’s film presentation and film teacher at CEAO. He shot me a Chesire cat smile, and I felt at ease.

Vivaldo looked up from the manuscript and then resumed his conversation. At the next break, he asked me to define my interests. I briefly related the nature of my research and my interest in the work of his that I been exposed to. Without hesitation he said, “Why haven’t you called me sooner? You, we have a great deal of work to do, and not much time to accomplish it in.” You must understand that I do not use email. Occasionally I have people read it for me. But, here take this card, my card. Call me or write me anytime. This door is always open to you. Now we must make decisions and get you into my library,” He pointed up, almost towards the sky. “ I don’t get around well anymore, so I don’t use it as much as I should, but you can. When are you free to come back?”

We made a date for next week, talked briefly and then leafed through some books that he thought would interest me. My appetite was sufficiently whetted. I heard clatter from the kitchen and the air became redolent of roasting meat. “I need to apologize for not offering you a meal, but I need to leave soon. Claudio and I have an appointment. Could I offer you a Whisky instead of lunch?” I begged off due to the heat and the time of the day. He and Claudio each had stiff tumblers of Johnny Walker neat to my mineral water and we moved to the living room to watch the Brazil vs. Russia soccer match, while I waited for Henrique to return.

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