Thursday, October 9, 2008

not Sinatra

As a point of reference for excellent writing that is thorough, well constructed and engaging I brought along a book of essays by Gay Talese. The most famous selection being, "Frank Sinatra Has Caught a Cold." I just finished re-reading it this week. I enjoyed it for many reasons, though at times the intimacy he has with his subject matter, Sinatra is almost too much.

My first thoughts were that Talese's children, if they exist, must have had to live a completely honest youth. His ability to succinctly and clinically investigate and analyze a situation or a person is quite unique. I imagined all of the fibs and half truths that children try to pawn off on their parents being quickly flushed in anticipation of the actual sequence of events; the honest truth.

Coincidentally, reading about Frank made me consider a seemingly unrelated detail, his iconic blue eyes. Talese acknowledged them, but didn’t subject them to inspection, or overwrite their position in his identity.

I need to read through the Bluest Eye, again, Toni Morrison's book. It has been many years since I read it. A kernel of that story surfaced here in Salvador for me.

Last week Urânia, my new acquaintance and I were discussing her interest in making film and video. One of her recent activities has been to ask black and brown children on the bus or the Lancha, what it is that they would want. On her way to Itaparica to visit with Augusto a young boy on the Lancha a boy told her, “Mamão, mamão, mamão, mamãomamãomamãomamãomamãomamãmammamão-Muito Mamão;”(-Papaya). He explained that he loves mamão, eats it all the time and it has many uses, including growing and selling it. He said it will keep him alive. I have been told by several people that the best mamão in Brazil comes from Itaparica.

On the bus, a young girl simply said, “Eu quero olhos azuis.” -“I want blue eyes." Nothing further.

We kept talking about blue eyes and their relationship to perceived economic, racial and cultural access in society. I mentioned the novel and the history I knew of Blue eyed Blacks. My understanding is that in addition to their eye color, they are/were fair skins-high yella, with good hair. People brought up with a notion that the blue eyed factor signified a greater percentage of white blood and resultant privileges to grow up the ladder of race. Atlanta is allegedly to be home to several membership societies and country clubs for blue eyed's.

My curiosity was piqued from day one in Salvador. The blue eyed's that I see here are darker people, from teakwood, bootblack or blue black. Often, their eyes appear aqueous and filmy, not fixed and piercing. I don't know if there is a change in a tonality similar to Russian blue eyed’s. I find the Russians striking in the contrast between their eyes, their pale skin and inky hair. The blue eyed Baianos are both subtle and arresting. The contrast between dusky skin and muted blue eyes is easy to overlook. Checking your gaze, your mind reviews the visual information hesitating momentarily. At close range suddenly they pop, ethereally.

Something in their countenance resonates with me. This may be a singular invention, but if I see them in the street I momentarily freeze. I feel drawn into their personal space. There isn't any snap or click of a real firing pin releasing the trigger and discharging a bullet. Another type of trigger, an emotional one fires inside of me. I am find the place of Saudade; yearning Delta blues, wounded and rough. Ring shouts, guttural jazz riffs. I am lost in the attack of a swooping Samba or Gospel song.

Sometimes I want the science class depicting the specific factors of dominant and recessive traits that manifest this genetic aberration. I am sure someone has created the graph defining the appropriate mix of “x” generations of Portuguese male seeds with “y” generations of African females and/or alternating with “z”, Indigenous females. So many categories and demarcations have already been created. Is there relevance in these externals ineffectively defining how we truly are who we are?

It seems clear that the juxtaposition talks story. It speaks rivers of time, of travel, subjugation and of melancholy. I read a thread of that story whenever I see these people often older men, dock workers, cabbies or wheelbarrow haulers. I want to sit and hear the story of their eyes. They consistently suggest more questions than answers.

I have to re-remember to check my reverie. …..The cabdriver needs to move on. A peanut or a Picolit vendor has dropped the coins, my change into my open palm. My hand has been marking time between the purchase and this closure, which had created the subterfuge for closer observation.

Irrespective of my bias, these eyes reveal an irrevocable truth of domination of one people over another. What is left is a mark, beautifully blue in the wake.

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