Rain and Fado, a perfect combo


Since it was raining this morning, I decided to check out the Fado Museum, which is helpfully located just a few minutes from my apartment. I knew almost nothing of Fado music before coming to Lisbon, but now having spent some time at the museum and listening to a fair sampling, I have come to the conclusion that this is my kind of thing. I have always been drawn to melancholic music, I find it the most beautiful type, and Fado does not disappoint. It is dripping with it. But Fado is not just about melancholy and sadness, it is about adjacent feelings of longing and acceptance. “Saudade” has always been one of my favorite Portuguese words, and here is a perfect representation of it in musical form. How could this not appeal to a gay man, really? Fado has a fascinating history of marginalization and censorship, and later even being seen as hopelessly tainted by associations with facism and dictatorship. You can read up on its history here, it is pretty interesting (if badly written). I even bought a couple of collections of Fado music, which I am listening to at this very moment.

And how perfectly timed this all was, since I am to meet friends tonight at a Fado restaurant…now, where did I put those razor blades…?

Uska Dara


Emre, Karpat and I were in the car yesterday (a very rainy day) on our way to breakfast, and when I pulled up the map, I noticed that we were near to an area called Üsküdar. I told my friend that it reminded me of a funny old Earth Kitt song called Uska Dara, that was ostensibly about a little town in Turkey, but that I was pretty sure it was all made up and that the language she was speaking was not a language at all, but just some foreign-sounding gibberish that was meant to stand in for one.

Well, it turns out that almost all of what she was saying in the spoken parts were actual Turkish words (even if some of the translations were made up). And the sung parts (both words and music) are from very well known folk songs. Emre and Karpat knew all the words and were singing along.  For some reason, this whole scenario tickled me to no end.

Bruci Veloso and Netinho (and Saulo)


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.

Music, Music and Beer (and more beer and music)


Some clichés and stereotypes are true. Brazillians (at least the ones I have met) are really into their music. After a great and low key dinner with Gustavo and Adilson, we headed over to a bar with live music to meet up with the wild and lovely Carol (who is apparently having an affair with the singer). A few beers and some great standard Brazilian songs later, Walter joined us and we didn’t stop moving and singing until the place shut down. I was really amazed to examine the small crowd, their enthusiasm for the music and the movement, which for them were inseparable. I have always felt a little clumsy on the dance floor myself, so I was in awe of how fluid and connected everyone was to the music (especially Carol). I myself was never raised in a culture as musical as this and it was amazing to witness. And although I didn’t recognize most of the songs, they were so catchy that I was mouthing along whatever portugese-like things I could, swaying in my seat and feeling giddy.

Lionel Ritchie and Celine Dion in wool


Many years ago, I traveled and lived in many of the capitals of Europe. During these years, there were certain commonalities that I noticed in the street performers. One in particular was the ubiquitous presence of the Peruvian (or Bolivian) wool poncho wearing, pan flute playing band. No matter where I was, they were there, hawking their CDs and playing their pan flutes. I had forgotten that they originated here in the Andes, but lucky for me (not) they are ALL over Cusco, usually playing alone in a restaurant. And the fascinating thing is that when they are not playing, the music that is invariably put on the sound system is in the same pan flute / guitar strumming style, except they are interpretations of the worst atrocities of western pop music, notably Lionel (say you, say me) and Celine (heart will go on) and the like.