A personal journey to the good end

10
Dec
2008

I met a nice friend of Gabe’s yesterday who showed me around some parts of Salvador that I hadn’t seen before, culminating in a visit to the somewhat creepy but fascinating Igreja de Bonfim. We discussed in part my travels and he told me quite a bit about his personal life here, sharing with me stories about his ex boyfriend, his parents, his godfather, siblings and growing up here. At one point we talked about the value of places, and he made a statement that I totally agree with: That people are more important than places. It was interesting in our walks around then that every place he took me to was a part of his personal history and held a significance to him almost exclusively related to his past and upbringing. Whether is was stopping briefly in the rundown neighborhood where his father and brother live to run an errand, to visiting the area around Bonfim where he grew up, to the school he attended, to the hospital where his sister works, every place clearly held great significance for him. And more than that, he seemed very strongly bound to these places and their meanings. It seemed to me that his past is very much a load that he carries in the present. He is both comforted and tortured by this past. Maybe it was the rain bringing out the saudade and melancholy, as he told me many times that Salvador is a much better city in the sunshine. For me, it was a fascinating trip down someone else’s memory lane, and I got to see parts of the city that I never would have without him. I didn’t mind the rain really.

It seemed appropriate that the apex of our walkaround should be Bonfim, with its rituals of healing old wounds. The architecture of the church is nothing special, but that it is a place which is thought to have curative powers is fascinating, and there is a room in which people have left prayers and wishes for healing. This room has its walls covered with people’s photos, some of their faces and some of their wounds. There are also plastic representative body parts hanging from the ceiling with notes on them, prayers for healing on these locations. My friend told me the room made him a little uncomfortable, and after a few minutes we moved on.

parts

A small taste of Carnival

8
Dec
2008

Every year, Carnival takes place at several sites in Brazil in the month of February. Salvador da Bahia is one of the biggest. And from November to February, the groups that perform at carnival give small practice concerts, usually every Sunday. When Anderson and Ivaldo invited me to something they billed simply as “carnival party”, I just assumed it was some gay dance party with a carnival theme, but it was instead one of these practice performances (by a group known as Motumba). We got inside and the crowd was milling about on the floor, waiting for the show to begin. I took the opportunity to have the best damn spicy acarajé ever, sold by a woman in a crazy white dress and the nicest smile.

While I was woofing it down, the band came on, and it was quite a large ensemble of dancers and singers and instruments, probably about 20 in all. They launched into the highly rhythmic music, and it seemed like just about every song they played was well known by the crowd. People were moving and dancing and smiling, and then something kind of amazing (to me) happened. A kind of space opened up in a line in the crowd, and several people took turns leading the crowd in incredible dance moves, everyone mimicking everyone else, legs back and forth, hands moving, pretty complicated looking (to me anyway). A kind a wave of people spread out from this center line, all dancing the most amazing and happy, infectious way. There were little groups all over the floor that broke out in similar movements, or in twos and threes and fives and tens. And the movements which looked so professional to me seemed so natural for everyone here. And they are. Anderson was explaining to me how much they grow up with this, and there is a kind of cultural memory that everyone has here for types of movement, music and dancing. It totally made me want to live in Brazil for a while, hoping for a point when this would become as second nature to me as it clearly is for them.

Ivaldo in particular was amazing to watch dance. He would grab any random woman from the crowd and turn her and himself around, at one point flipping a woman over his head, who seemed to be loving it and put the moves on Ivaldo at one point shortly after. This was one of the features of the crowd that I loved, a kind of complicity between strangers, an instant friendship in sharing the spectacle.

The show lasted a couple of hours, at which point another kind of marching band came in, and along with the main band, danced and played and sang their way out of the performance area with the whole crowd in tow. What an amazing way to end a concert, everyone dancing out of the venue and into the street. It started raining on us as our procession left the performance area, and it was glorious.

I think this is the first time that I have ever been able to truly (begin to) understand the logic of carnival. I always got the idea of a big party and dancing before a period of austerity, but the communal connection was missing. And without that piece, you can’t really appreciate it. And it is not something you can intellectualize very well either. It is something you feel and participate in, something that connects you to a common humanity.

My alter ego shows up at dinner

7
Dec
2008

Yesterday ended this morning at 5am when I walked home from a small local dance club, leaving my friends with their Mr Rightnows in search of my bed. But what a day it was. After getting up early to check out the historic center, I was invited out to the beach hotel where Anderson and Ivaldo are staying for a great meal of Acarajé, Moqueca, and Pudim (among other tasty things). After that we headed to the beach where we gawked at the bodies, swam, had beers, tried to teach Stephen a little more Portuguese, gawked a little more and then headed back to the hotel for a nap.

We then made a plan to go to a restaurant my friend Gabe had recommended, but when we got there it turned out that this location (there are two) was no longer in business. Alas, we decided to try back for lunch on Monday, and headed off into the lower central city for a great meal at a restaurant on the bay. The place was a bit crowded and we had to wait, meeting and eventually sharing a table with a couple, enjoying great conversation and even better tropical fruit Capirinhas. When we were just about finished with dinner, who should show up but Anderson’s friend and my alter ego Bruci Veloso (I think it may actually be spelled “Bruce” like in English, although pronounced “Broosee”), a very nice young man of 21 who was fascinated by my little travel adventure. We spent the next half hour or so pouring over the gory details of my trip with me offering up encouragement for his own wanderlust.

After that we said our goodbyes to our eating companions and went by a club we were thinking about going to, but when we got there it looked less than promising, and a man outside told us to stay in the middle inside because “On the left side is a very bad smell, and on the right an even worse one”.

Quite the recommendation.

And since the place clearly was not AC equipped, we let discretion take the better part of valor and headed out on a wild goose chase around the city in search of another place to go. We finally landed at a small club in my neighborhood (called Off) which was pleasant enough (and cool inside). Several hours later I was back in my bed, having braved the dangerous streets to walk home in the early morning light. Despite being rather tired, I couldn’t really sleep all that well and so here I am blogging to you about it.

Bruci Veloso and Netinho (and Saulo)

5
Dec
2008

Last night was crazy whirlwind introduction to the night and music of Salvador, courtesy my friend Anderson (who I met through Walter last week, and who is in Salvador this week for work). Ten minutes after arriving in Salvador, he texted me to invite me to a club / concert, and he and two friends came to pick me up at my hotel not long after. It turned out that the place we were going to was in my neighborhood, prob about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.  Getting into the club was a bizarre and Byzantine experience in itself. There were several different lists and hundreds of people crowding the entrance gates all pushing to get in. Anderson told me that b/c they didn’t have time to get my name on the VIP list, I was to tell the guy at the gate that my name was Bruci Veloso (or something like that) and flash my ID quickly so he wouldn’t check.

ID? Shit.

I almost never carry ID with me, especially not for getting into a club. In over two years of travel I can’t remember a single instance of being carded, but apparently here it was de rigeur, and so I told Anderson no problem, I would just walk back to my hotel to get it. He gave me a look that let me know he thought I was truly crazy, and told me that it wasn’t safe at all, we would need to take the car. I had heard that Salvador was the most likely place in Brazil to be mugged, but somehow this little safety tip really hit me in the face.

After coming back from the hotel with my CA driver’s license in hand, posing as Bruci and quickly passing my ID under the nose of the secret service type guy at the door, we headed into the club’s antechamber, where we were briskly frisked, and then passed to another list-reading series of windows to determine our eligability for various access wristbands and to give us the ubiquitous electronic card for the night’s drink purchases. By this time I should mention that we were covered in sweat, as it is VERY humid and hot in Salvador, apparently at all times. Finally passing inside to the AC room, I really did feel like a very important person standing by the air vent.

We started wandering around the place, which was a very mixed crowd, and Anderson explained to me that although there were straight people making out like crazy all over, the gays could never do that in a public place here. They could exchange phone numbers and see each other at a later time. He introduced me to a number of people, and there was lots of goodwill and smiles all around, despite the fact that I could hardly communicate at all with any of them. But here is the thing that I love about the Brazilians I have been meeting: They aren’t bothered at all. It is as if the will to communicate is far more important than the actual meanings of the words, and they (and I) just continued speaking Greek to each other and smiling. I even chatted with a handsome guy for about 45 minutes and exchanged phone numbers and made a plan to meet for coffee during my stay here. At least, I think we did. I couldn’t tell you at all one important piece of information about him since I couldn’t understand a word. But oh well, I was happy to have participated in the phone number ritual.

As we moved through the various rooms of the club, a lot of excitement was being generated, as the main event was about to happen. Everyone was so excited, because Netinho was about to go on stage!

Wait a minute, Netinho who? I asked.

You would think I had just punched someone’s mother in the gut, as Anderson and the group we were with gave me incredulous stares. How could I not know this guy? He is super famous! This is one of the things that I love about travel, running in circles you don’t normally and meeting or learning about “famous” people you have never heard of. The really great part of this is that I can separate the hype of their cult of fame and personality from the quality of the music. And I have to say, Netinho gave a great show and I really enjoyed the music and the energy of the crowd. And then he was joined on stage for a few songs by..Saulo!

(Saulo who? More horrified glances).

We stayed and danced and enjoyed the music until about 3:30, then went in search of a non existent restaurant, stopping instead at a scary gas station with a bunch of drunk kids loitering in front. After enjoying a bag of nuts and a little more conversation, they dropped me off at my hotel with a promise to hit the beaches this weekend. I will go in search of a swimsuit sometime today, incognito as Bruci Veloso of course.

Steamy

4
Dec
2008

Well I finally arrived in Salvador, and it is hot and humid here. The driver that the hotel sent to pick me up was way cute and tried to teach me a little Portuguese in the car on the hour drive to the hotel. I really wasn’t understanding more than about 50% of what he said, and he likewise only understood about 50% of my Spanish/English mix, but the intent was there, and he seemed really nice. We tried to talk about a range of subjects, some more successfully than others. He seemed to want to talk about prostitution quite a bit more than I did, and I maybe wasn’t understanding him all that well, but I think at one point he offered to get me a hooker.