Monday, November 17, 2008

Cookin’ it up with Dada, hanging with Big, his mom and his Spliffs…

Monday late afternoon, when I got off the Lancha, I headed up the Lacerda to Big’s (pronounced Biggie) store. He had wanted me to buy/bring an Orixá painting to Danny for his birthday. I knew that at minimum I needed to buy something from him as a thank you for the people he had introduced me to. From the day I had met him, I knew that his friendship came at some kind of price. No matter, he had been sweet and generous with his time, his family and his contacts. And the mini canvases were cheap enough.

When I got there, he let me know that he was hurt that I had never taken him up on his offer to have a meal or stay for a week at his house. We talked for a bit, and we decided that I would spend the night with him. He told me that he had no food in the house, so why didn’t I go get some chow. I walked up to the cash machine, nosed around for some grub, and decided to try once more to suss out Dada at her Pelourinho spot, Sorriso de Dada. When I walked in the door, I saw her on the phone. I grabbed a table in the back, ordered a Moqueca de Polvo, Agua de Coco, a Caipirinha and an audience with Dada.

She sashayed over, deep cleavage revealed an ample bosom in her strapless satiny gown. Silky whitecloth wrapped tightly round her head obscured her hair. She was quick to hug and talk shop. I explained my previous attempts to share a TV slot with her. She apologized, and we got down to business sharing stories, laughing and revealing some trump cards. She was on the heels of a Norwegian excursion, she had been contracted to teach them Bahian Bacalhau recipes. The Norwegian Fisheries Commission had contracted her to write a small cookbook. In the best way she was bawdy, colored and full of fun, and little modesty. Dada was the Brazilian Emerald or Bobby Flay with her empire and kingdom. She was the ambassador of Bahian cuisine, and had been the darling and a character inspiration to Jorge Amado. Dada was gap tooth girl (a traveler) with an agenda. We had so much good laugh time that I almost missed Big.

He asked me to pay for a cab, so that we could get home faster. Like many people in retail, when it was over he was too through. Done and extra crispy. He wanted to get home, chill roll a fatty and forget. One of his salesgirls came with us as we walked down to Baixa dos Sapateiros to find a cab. Big precisely directed the taxi through the city only offering the driver a few blocks worth of information at any moment. This is the real way to travel in town. I have seen too many cabs take the scenic route to build the meter check.

His house was a crazy conflagration of shack, DYI and mansão. He had bought a double lot, and just kept adding floors as he had money and construction materials. Obviously he had sold many, many little canvases and building codes were probably a fiction. The ground floor façade was non-descript to fit in with the working class homes of his neighbors on his lane in Sete Portas. He had cleverly constructed the entrance with an ante room to prevent an onlooker to see over his shoulder when he turned the key and see what booty was inside the house. Like Danny he was an Ogun, and he had an ofrendo in the anteroom. He took no chances. I quickly learned as I had guessed that he was some kind of made man. He told me that he grew up on the streets to learn how to live. He had been with gangsters, and was not a gangster. He had been with drug dealers and was not a dealer or a user. He knew everyone, but stayed clean. After I set down my things, I went back to the street to make some calls, solidify my agreement with Henrique to drive me to the airport, confirm tomorrow’s meeting with Vivaldo and say a few quick goodbyes.

Back in the house, he called down to me to head up to the roof. There he sat with his co-worker and his mother, her parrots and parakeets rolling spliffs for all takers. The top floor was half open to the sky. He told me he was making a suite for people like me to come and stay in. He and his mom who was quite attractive, petite (as was he) and café au lait to his deep ebony skin, told me that I had a room for Carnaval, just confirm my flight and I was all set.

I took several pictures of his expressive face in the half light of the moonrise. For whatever reason, Big had cottoned to me. He cooked up the idea that we should collaborate on a book. It seems that Oprah had been one of the many black Americans who had traipsed through his tchoctke gallery.

Allegedly before he knew quite who she was he had invited her home for lunch. His story goes that she loved her meal so much she came back two days later and wanted more. When she went to pay for the meal, he insisted that this was his home not a restaurant, he would be insulted to accept money. “But I am….”-she trailed off. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you are my guest,” he asserted. Out came the card and the invitation to Chicago. “Come be on the show, tell me how I can help you, whenever you need it.”

So now he wanted to cash in. Did I think that she would cover the U.S. book publication and publicity fees? He had a source for the Brazilian side. We could make it work, together he assured me. Wow…some sleepover. I said that I needed to think on it. What a possibility, Vivaldo all day, and Big all night. I foresaw two sides to Salvador, two books and very little sleep. Hmm. I needed to take some notes, straighten up my stuff for traveling and prep myself for my day with Vivaldo. I went downstairs, showered, charged all my technology and crashed.

In the morning, his mom made coffee while we fed the birds and Big got his blunts together. He told me that he would walk me to the Pituba bus on his way to Pelourinho. Every person who crossed his path he either knew, or they owed him a favor or needed a hand. I guessed that I should be calling him Don Big. The specter of working together took on deeper resonance. He bought some building materials for a some L.A. black friends reno' job he was supervising and dropped me at the bus stop. All along the way I was shooting pics, probably to the consternation of my made man. We parted with a full embrace, and I agreed to send him copies of my pictures and a response to his request. Whew that was a great deal to experience before eight A. M.

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