Sunday, December 28, 2008

'All I Want for Christmas...' A Look Back

I wanted to write a nice, G-rated post about the holiday because my next post is going to be a doozy.

As happens with some frequency, I started a post several days ago and then abandoned it. I will excerpt some of it here for your reading pleasure:

Title: All I Want For Christmas

...Are all the things that broke over the course of the year. That would include:
  • the DVD player
  • my printer
  • our cordless phone
  • my car speakers...
The list went on. I didn't get any of these things, except the cordless phone. Actually I broke down and bought one because I couldn't stand living in a house with only one phone on a floor. I read an inane article on the NYT website about how phone cords were a thing of the past and I thought that those people don't live in my world. But then again, I live in a house with three phones, and three cell phones so I can't really complain.
Actually, I'm not being entirely honest. There's lots of other things I would like too, but I'm not even going to post that list. That one contains a lot of really big ticket items that officially go in the 'pipe dream' category.
I didn't get any pipe dreams for Christmas either... or airline tickets... or beach-front apartments or rural properties heavy on the trees and light on the people (and the noise)...
Here in Brazil I don't tell people 'Happy Holidays,' if I did they probably wouldn't know what I was talking about. In a country that is mostly nominally Catholic with the second biggest demographic being other flavors of Christianity, everyone says Merry Christmas or rather: Feliz Natal.
But I write this blog mostly for my friends back home, so Happy Holidays.

I have read the posts of my fellow Americans-In-Salvador in honor of this holiday season and I share many of the same sentiments. I doubt there are many expats that don't get somewhat homesick over the holidays- the ones that don't are doing something right.

Christmas used to be when my Swedish heritage came booming to the fore, with the cookies and the Swedish Christmas carols and that little candle thing with the angels flying around in circles ringing bells (see picture). That made great shadows on the ceiling I remember. Every year we had an advent calendar.

I guess in some ways my Christmas now is more when my American heritage comes out- what with the materialism and the guilt and the spending of too much money. Then again, these have all been pretty well incorporated into the Brazilian experience so it's not terribly unique to the US- chalk it up to extremely successful cultural imperialism.

One way that my Christmas has shown my at least partial Brazilification was in my choice of Christmas lights. At home, we had white lights that looked like candles. We scoffed and/or laughed at any colored and/or blinking lights as being exceedingly kitschy and "American." One exception was our friend who had the lava lamp Christmas lights- I think we cut him some slack because they were so over the top. When I got my own house and started preparing my own Christmas decorations like a rebellious madman I bought blinking, colored lights to put in the windows (almost completely shorted out in a downpour this year) and blinking, colored lights for the artificial tree (gasp!! - it's true, not that blue spruces can be bought on the street here even if I wanted one) with an added bonus feature: a teeny green box that beeps out a medley of Christmas favorites with all the lights blinking in time. I guess I'm not that thoroughly assimilated though- when I put on the lights I immediately turn off the bleeper and slow the lights down to a non-seizure-inducing pace. I have often walked into the living room to see one or more members of my family watching the TV with the tree squawking away or blinking furiously... now that's Brazil!

The materialism was good this year. Ruan got a cell phone with an MP3 player built in so now he's not the only 11 year old kid in the city without a phone. My mom sent him a Chris Brown CD and that's getting lots of play already on the tiny device. Lucas got a remote control Ferrari which has already exceeded expectations of durability after repeated high-speed crashes with all manner of immovable objects. Evani got a perfume she had asked for that was more expensive than the car and almost as expensive as the cell phone. The other thing I did for her was build a website for her fledgling cake-making business- admittedly somewhat crude, it still didn't arouse as much excitement as I thought it might. Here it is in it's not quite beta form- be kind. And the email doesn't work yet.

And me? I got an awesome package from my mom with gifts for everyone. I wrapped up the enclosed spray paint tips and the new books and stuck them under the tree with the cans of paint I had also purchased and wrapped up for myself. I now have lots of paint and I'm dying to get out and PAINT SOMETHING big and important but the opportunity evades me so far.

We opened our presents on Christmas Eve like we did post-childhood back home. No kids waking up at 5 AM to attack the stockings- in fact, no stockings. Just a nice meal, twenty minutes of flying bits of paper, and then a big party with the family on Christmas day here at the house, with beer and barbecue and all the rest.

All told I'd say a splendid time was had by all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Movie Theater

Today Lucas did something new- he went to his first movie. In a cinema that is not even a week old. And within walking distance of our house.

Lucas did really well- he didn't get scared, except when they clumsily started a preview (whoops, I mean 'trailer') at extreme volume. He got kind of bored at a couple points and wanted to change seats but for the most part he stayed focused and watched the movie with his thumb in his mouth, contented. It helped that the film was Madagascar II, the sequel to one of his all time favorite movies.

This makes me very happy. I've been holding off on bringing him to a film, as I didn't think he'd be able to sit still. I think Ruan was about 6 when I took him to his first movie- he did fine, except he spent about ten minutes standing instead of sitting, until I managed to coax him back to his seat. That was Finding Nemo.

This means we can all go to movies together!! Or rather, that Ruan, Lucas and I can go to movies together- I doubt we'll have much luck getting Evani to join us. But I hope I'm wrong.

The new theater is in a big concrete box that used to house another theater. That theater closed years ago, and has since been undergoing renovations. They finally opened the doors to the public on Friday. It now has four theaters, a bookstore, a cafe, and a space that looks like it will be used for events. It is in a fantastic location in Praça Castro Alves, which is a beautiful spot by day with a panoramic view of the bay, and a horrible place after about 6 PM as a couple of the roads that let out onto it lead to very sketchy areas. I know more people who have been robbed in Castro Alves than anywhere else in Salvador.

We took a look around the building after the movie and I was more than impressed. It has big windows with great views, wide granite stairways, an impressive looking bookstore, and a fancy bar/cafe. The theaters themselves are state of the art (I think, what do I know about state of the art theaters?) - big, comfy seats, a steep seating area, big old screen.

Problem was, there were only about ten people watching the film- granted this was 2 PM on a Sunday. We went in there last night and there were a lot of staff standing around being helpful but almost no customers. I hope this is going to change. They appear to be pitching this as something of an art-house project, and I hope there's an audience for it. The movies aren't cheap- they generally aren't here, but the location is not close to any wealthy population centers and is not inside of a mall, which always attracts those with means.

I've become so cynical that even as I was exalting in this new space I was already expecting it to fail. Build something nice, nearby, and it's too good to be true. Nobody's going to go and it will close, or it will get trashed before its time and it will close, or there will be some scandal and it will close. All roads lead to closure in my mind.

I hope I'm wrong. They say optimists are never pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Recently an old high school friend of mine sent me a friend request on Facebook. This is always fun. I had planned a big old "Golly Gee" blog post about Facebook and MySpace and how I found all these old friends of mine, but it never happened. I reckon too many of you are finding this out for yourselves for this to be interesting.

Anyhow, this particular old friend also runs a recording studio and about twelve years ago he helped record a demo tape of a band I used to play bass in called Big Fat Lie. We were a big, crunchy, noisy power trio with more of a rapper than a singer. The lyrics were political and at times we were silly. We did the recording a couple years before the advent of recordable CD's and MP3's, so for the longest time I had only a cassette tape of the demo. Unfortunately, I have never had a cassette player that can do it justice, so I have not heard these tunes at all for a long time.

We were a lazy band and although we practiced regularly twice a week we rarely did shows. I can't help thinking that if digital recording technology had been a bit more advanced and we could have burned 50 CD's and sent them out to clubs and radio stations and such things might have been different. But that was impossible. Eventually we all decided to do different things and the band broke up. This is doubly unfortunate because we were 'active' in the Northampton, MA music scene at the time the rumors were flying that it was going to be the next Seattle, which of course it wasn't.

So when my producer/engineer friend became my Facebook buddy, I asked him about those old tapes and if they were still kicking around. He said he'd take a look. A few weeks later, having totally forgotten about it, lo and behold I get an email with a link- to all our songs, zipped up and posted on

Digital versions at last!

After a thank you email, I downloaded the files and checked out the songs- in full digital glory, as I had not heard them since we made the original tapes. Something about them really surprised me.

They weren't that bad.

I mean, if you like that kind of metal/hardcore/rap stuff it's not bad. Probably a bit old fashioned at this point but I'm too matured and wizened to worry about stuff like that.

You can have a listen, if you are feeling brave: just click the button in the middle of the cassette. I finally figured out how to upload the stuff to my MySpace page- true to the garish and obnoxious nature of that site the tape starts playing as soon as you load it!

Music Playlist at

PS I don't play music anymore, not even Capoeira music these days...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pequena Sirugia

I'm really going to try to keep this short...

I was born a moley guy.

Lots of moles. Head to toe.

Today I have three less, but perhaps only one less than I was born with.

You see, I once had a mole checked out as I have heard that they can go mean on you and cause skin cancer. That particular mole didn't turn out to be a problem, but the doctor told me what to watch out for. So when I noticed a dark, somewhat irregular splotch in the vicinity of my belly button I decided to get it checked out. This second doctor confirmed that it was probably a good idea to get it removed, and she found another that she was suspicious about. Those two, plus a third that was so raised that it would bother me when I was training Capoeira or even taking a shower were slated for removal. That removal happened this evening.

Let me say that I'm actually quite fond of my moles. I figure they're the closest things I'll ever get to tattoos, so I like them. I was actually going to get the mole on my upper lip removed when I was in high school because I kept cutting it open when shaving, but in retrospect I'm glad I didn't, even if I still cut it open from time to time. I'm a little surprised I even considered it because moles on the upper lip were a big thing at the time, consider Madonna and the ladies from the Human League- I'm not sure those were even natural moles. I even considered getting a tiny tattoo at one point of a little circle that would look just like a mole, except it was a circle. Pretty subtle. And pretty silly. Anyhow it never happened.

I wasn't real nervous about getting the moles sliced off until right before it actually happened- I hate needles and scalpels and avoid them at all costs. As I lay there sweating in the air conditioning I thought about someone who is very dear to me who loves needles and scalpels and got a massive 'cutting' all over his stomach and legs, without anesthesia. Probably more than 100 times the knife time and he did it for fun. He paid the guy to do it. He talks about how it's a big spiritual experience and all the rest and the way I figure is that I prefer to find my spiritual experiences in other ways. Like sleeping. Personally I think he enjoys the pain, or enjoys dominating the pain, or something like that. I was telling another heavily tattooed friend of mine about this and his response was "Fuck that, I hate the pain. Every time I get a tattoo I think, man, what the hell am I doing this for? It hurts! I like the result but I hate getting the tattoos."

I digress, as usual. But that's what makes my posts interesting, right? Unless you prefer I just write straight up stories about my license plates and dead neighbors. I could put a poll in the sidebar: "What kind of posts do you prefer?"

Never going to happen.

I did say I was going to keep this short. After the painkiller, which I thoroughly hated, the slicing was... painless... but the stitching up part was very unpleasant. Not because I could feel it, although I did feel it a bit near the edges, but because it was taking way too long and my imagination is way too vivid. I know they've got these rigs now where you can watch your own surgery happen on a monitor- no thank you. Not that it was an option. Actually, before I was prepped all the seedy detail in the office came into glaring focus- the old computer on its saggy particle board workstation, the awkward chopping up of a once large and elegant space into smaller offices, the godawful spackling job right over my head as I was getting stitched. I had to remind myself that these guys came recommended (by a somewhat dotty dermatologist) and had a good reputation (they did a boob job for one of the dancers for the group Tchan, and were really surprised that I didn't know her name. I think she's the brunette in this video. Here in Brazil people brag about their plastic surgery).

At one point the guy started circling all the moles on my back with his fancy blue pen- hold on there mister doctor! Three is plenty (remember I said I like my moles).

So now they're gone and now I'm home and all is well. I wonder if they'll hurt when the anesthetic wears off.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Your What is Missing??

I wanted to write a silly, sentimental post about hanging up Christmas lights and setting up the tree and stuff. About how I miss home when the holidays come around and how I'm getting older and I'm a dad now and all that.

But no.

It's going to be another 'Slapped in the Face' post from yours truly.

It all started this afternoon, as I was getting ready for the craft fair and six hours of sitting around in a semi-vegetative state waiting for the occasional thrill of the sale, one or two shirts to the inevitably non-Bahian passing though or relocated to Salvador, hoping to turn a profit rather than paying out of pocket for the privilege of sitting there. I was running around, agitated, as I generally get when I'm tring to get out the door and I'm running late. I got everything into the plastic storage bins and down by the door. I got the car from where it had been sitting since Monday when I drove it last, and moved it up the hill so I could load up. I loaded up. I was ready to go.

And then

I realized

that the car

had no

license plates.

They stole my fucking license plates?? As they say here in Brazil, Ninguem Merece, or 'nobody deserves this.' The car itself was untouched except for a muddy smear across the hood. It was not broken into and even the spare tire was in place, suspended from its little steel cage under the rear bumper. But no plates.

Now, Brazil is a place where you can drive without headlights, without a brain, until recently with an open beer in your hand, and presumably without brakes, but I wasn't going to risk driving without plates. I wasn't entirely certain it was an impossibility, seeing as my brother once had his plates taken away by the police in Mexico when he got a parking ticket, presumably to guarantee that he would pay up. So I postponed heading to the fair and went back in the house to sort out the problem.

'Sorting out the problem' involved two very long sessions on hold with the Brazilian equivalent of the DMV, who never answered, and several very loud curses from yours truly. When I finally gave up on that approach, I had a brief and surprisingly pleasant conversation with a police officer on the Brazilian equivalent of 911, who told me I'd better make an official report and told me where to go to do so. It wasn't far away, within walking distance. Actually quite close to where I painted my dinosaur a few weeks ago.

My real concern was not getting to the fair, or even making my car legal to drive again. My concern was having an official report stating that my plates were stolen and that I don't know of their whereabouts since Monday. You can bet whoever took those plates didn't wrap them up and stick them under the tree, my plates are out there making mischief as we speak, and I don't want to be held responsible for it. Actually, the first thing I did was check all the cars on the street to make sure my plates weren't on any of them, because one thing I have learned in my nearly forty years on this planet is that there are some extremely stupid thieves out there. Actually, I should probably check again as I haven't ruled that out as a possibility. Which raises the question- how do I deal with it if I do find my plates on a neighbor's car? Do I just take them back and not say anything? Do I take them back and throw a rock through the window? Do I take them back and then hunt down the owner and give them a piece of my mind?

Anyways I walked down past my dinosaur to where the police station is. The first thing I saw when I closed in on my target was the big 'On Strike' signs on the door.

Oh yeah.

The cops are on strike.


My mother sent me a package a week or so ago, an event that always seems to coincide with a strike by the postal workers union. She asked me if there was another one going on and I said nope, it's just the cops who are on strike right now ha ha isn't that funny well not really if you suddenly have to file a police report. The one guy minding the shop at the police station told me to try another one, that maybe I'd have better luck there.

It also occurs to me that perhaps my plates were stolen at this time because the cops are on strike, some relatively clever thieves playing the odds that crime pays a bit better when 70% of the officers are not available to stop them.

So I walked to the other police station, another local destination. This is why my car hasn't been used since Monday- I can walk almost everywhere I need to go. This is why I really shouldn't even have a car, because I don't actually use it very much. I certainly don't use it for what it should be used for, which is getting me the fuck out of this city from time to time to keep me from going insane.

But I digress.

Actually, the story pretty much winds down at this point- I walk in, huge line, woman with bruises all down one side of her face, man with bloody shirt and bandage on cheek (these two are not together), stinky alcoholic looking guy who sat down next to me and forced me to find another place to sit. I waited around for a long time and made a report and watched the crowd dissipate, wishing I had brought Evani's iPod so I could listen to podcasts, in English, from the country I used to call home, where I never had my plates stolen.

The country that keeps calling my name, a little bit louder each time some stupid shit like this happens to me.

I left the station with my police report, too late to head to the fair. I went home and had a couple beers and played with Lucas, who by the way is still awake at 12:30 at night. Tomorrow I'll go and put in a request for some new plates. I can hardly wait.

All in all, probably a more interesting evening than I would have had trying to sell my t-shirts.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Another one of my neighbors met his untimely demise early this morning.

They called him Cabeção, which means 'big head.' I knew him well, or should say knew of him well, because the apartment where he lived is directly across from our bedroom window. He used to spend hours in his window, as well as on the street in front of our house, talking loudly in his unusually deep voice. At one point he became obsessed with Pavarotti, and extremely loud opera got mixed into the musical soup that is otherwise dominated by Bahian Pagode and Seresta. I've never been a big fan of opera, but it was a welcome break from the tedium.

Cabeção always ignored me when I'd pass him on the street, until quite recently, when he started to acknowledge me. I don't know why, and now I never will. We are friendly with his mother, who once bought a stuffed bunny for Lucas, and one of his sisters, who came to Evani's last caruru. They're all a bit odd and his mother has admitted as much to Evani. There were rumors that he was a pedophile, and rumors he was using drugs. Beyond that I know nothing about him.

According to my neighbor Mario, last night Cabeção was drinking at a bar a few streets over from ours. At some point in the early morning, something happened, and he was beaten to death. I don't know any details. As is the custom here, he has already been buried.

Whenever something like this happens, conversation inevitably turns to stories of other violent deaths- the news is full of them. "We are like birds," Evani said today, apparently in reference to the fragility of our lives. Then she recounted a road rage incident that happened the other day here in Salvador where one guy followed another into a gas station and killed him because of something that happened in traffic. I interrupted the conversation at one point to say that eventually it's going to reach the point where I'm going to say enough is enough. What is so great about this place that I should live here in fear of my life, or the lives of the ones I love? There are plenty of great and beautiful places on this planet where you don't need to fear random and deadly violence on a daily basis. She replied that what is so great about Salvador (jokingly) is that she is here. I replied that she is also portable, and can be relocated to a less dangerous locale.

Personally, I don't think she'd ever move. But I left behind everything that was familiar to me to live here, and at some point I will have to decide if it's still worth it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Things That Happened on Sunday

A List in Three Items

1. I painted some Graffiti

And for the first time, when I backed off to have a look at it, it actually looked better than I thought rather than worse. By no means a masterpiece, but I'm getting there. Here's a picture:

It's a plant eating dinosaur. No teeth. I was gonna do a dragon, but Nova 10 Ordem, the premier graffiti crew here in Salvador just did a big mural of Caverna do Dragão and I didn't want anyone to think I was ripping them off.

2. I went to the craft fair

And came home a bit early because I was discouraged as I sold almost nothing.

On the way there I took this little film of a very popular spot for graffiteiros, and also for political propaganda. What's interesting in this short film, in case you can't figure it out, is that my piece with the snakes is the only one that survived the political campaign. I feel lucky, and I'm also curious- why did mine get spared? Does it mean the political propagandists liked it?

The part of the wall that appears towards the end of the film is where I did the piece from which I copped my avatar: Markuza's avatar

3. Evani and Lucas were at a bus stop...

...And Evani heard a noise, like a faucet running. Or a hose. Or someone taking a piss out the window of a bus. Bahian men have no shame (correction: some Bahian men) and will whip it out just about anywhere. I remember one time driving on the highway and some middle-aged guy was facing the oncoming traffic and relieving himself. One time we were on a boat and this drunk guy who kept stepping on my feet squatted down and pulled his business out of the leg of his shorts and pissed right on the deck of the boat. On my very first visit to Brazil I went to see a band, was taking a leak in the toilet, and some Bahiano came in and just pissed in the corner of the bathroom on the floor. I am feigning indignation- I see it so often I'm jaded now.

And here was this guy pissing out the window of the bus. I'm sure the bus driver and the cobrador (who collects the money, and sits at the back of the bus) saw him doing this and didn't say anything. I think people here generally let others get away with this kind of thing because the people who actually do this kind of thing have a tendency to go psycho if you say something, so they just sigh and shake their heads.

Evani grabbed Lucas and hurried him around the back of the bus stop, just in the nick of time. The guy suddenly aimed higher and pissed all over the people waiting at the bus stop (indignation no longer feigned). A few of them, enraged, went and pounded on the door of the bus, but the busdriver just drove off.

There's a word for people like this, they're called sacizeiros. Troublemakers. Sacizeiros like to brag about how they faz acontecer, or 'make things happen.' What they make happen is trouble and/or fights. These are people you want to stay well away from here in Salvador. They've got nothing to lose and they've got a bad attitude and they want you to start something so they can stomp on you.

I'm glad Evani got out of the way.

That's a Mighty Long Sentence You Have There

Wow- I've always found it amusing Brazilians are fond of run-on sentences- further proof that spoken Portuguese has little relationship to the written version.

Here is a prime example- this is a comment on a blog I was looking at a little while ago, and was written by a journalism student:
Antes de mais nada, parabéns pela iniciativa, muito louvável, e suas peças são belíssimas, na verdade "achei" vcs através de M_____ M_____, em Recife, sou aluna dela e estou concluindo o curso de jornalismo, nosso Tcc, será um podcast, sobre meio ambiente e consumo sustentável, ao longo de nossas conversas Mariana nos falou sobre o trabalho de vcs, e achamos muito interessante, nosso projeto é entregar aos professores um exemplar do nosso podcast e relatório dentro de ecobags, "matutando" sobre isso M______ nos indicou o trabalho de vcs, no entanto já observei q vcs só fazem encomenda de peças acima de 150 unidades ok, no entanto gostariamos de apenas 5 unidades, caso vcs possam nos ajudar nesta empreitada, ficariamos imensamente gratas, aguardo uma resposta, parabéns pelo talento!!!
This is the entire comment. Please note- there are no periods, this is one sentence! I count 19 commas. As my seventh grade english teacher would have said: "Whew!"

For the record she's talking about 'ecobags' - you know, reusable cloth bags like Mr. Bloomberg is trying to promote in NYC. They haven't really caught on here, at least not in Bahia.

I took this quote from the blog, which has some beautiful stuff on it. And if you want eco-bags, they can make them for you.

I have decided, just for fun, that I should try writing a sentence, in the Portuguese style, with lots of commas, that goes on for a very long time, and covers all manner of topics, I'm not real sure why they don't put some periods in from time to time, nobody really talks like this, but then that was my point from the beginning, that written Portuguese bears no resemblance to the spoken version, unlike English, where the two are essentially interchangeable, I have to make a conscious effort not to put in periods, or other forms of 'full stop' punctuation, to make this a very, very, very long sentence, but I think that finally I'm going to STOP.

Hmm- only 18 commas. I need to work on that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Santa Potty Mouth

I just heard something... curious... on the radio. There was a program on where listeners can call in and make complaints about whatever, and one woman told how her seven year old daughter had gone to sit on Santa's lap at the mall and asked him for a present for Christmas.

Before I tell you what Santa told the little girl, a teeny bit of background. Malls here are a big deal, people get dressed up to go to the mall, and far from finding bargains, everything there is generally much more expensive than in other places. They also stage these elaborate events to bring people in, like this extremely elaborate and absurdly premature Christmas tableau complete with the white bearded fat guy.

So Santa says to the little girl: "I'm sorry, I can't give you anything this year because I'm fudido. Go get something at the camelô." Translation: fudido means 'fucked,' but it's also slang for 'broke,' which is presumably what he meant. A camelô is someone who participates in the 'informal economy,' ie they sell pirated dvd's or really cheap plastic toys on the street. Although many many presents are bought this way, it doesn't quite have the romance of Santa's Workshop. He also told her not to tell her mommy what he said.

A couple things are weird about this story:

  1. The first one is obvious

  2. Even though the woman was indignant that Santa had said this to her little girl, who could have been "traumatized" by the experience, neither she nor the host had any problem saying fudido live on the radio- they must have said it twenty times. God forbid any seven year old kids might be listening! Or the Brazilian equivalent of the FCC!

  3. The third is I know exactly who this Santa Claus guy is. There aren't many people in Salvador who fit the Jolly Old Phenotype, at least not with a real beard. This same guy does Santa at the mall near our house, and I've got pictures of the kids sitting on his lap. Plus I just happened to see him at the mall in question on Saturday- maybe I witnessed him scandalizing this young child!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008



Saturday, October 25, 2008

Another One

A year or so ago, a woman moved into the annoying house next door. Nothing strange about that, people come and go from there all the time. Problem was, this one took a liking to me. A powerful liking. The kind of liking that makes you understand why Brazilians are so insanely jealous. She liked me and she let me know and she let the whole damn world know while she was at it.

There was a funny incident at my wedding where some random woman I had never seen in my life took a liking to my father, who was 75 at the time and has been very happily married for many years. She was so aggressive about trying to flirt with him, and get him to sit next to her, and I don't know what else that he tried to flee the reception. He was acutely uncomfortable. I told him to ignore her and seated him at another table with all my brothers and she finally got the picture and backed off. Before she left she even tried to make a dramatic pseudo-apology saying that she was also happily married and there was some kind of misunderstanding about her intentions. Kinda indefensible if the first thing you say about a guy is "QUE GATO!!" which means literally "what a cat" but really means "what a sexy guy" and then won't shut up about how he should be doing certain things that would force him to pay attention to her. Brazilians have an excellent expression "cara de pao," which means "face of wood" to indicate someone who is completely shameless about doing something, like telling big fat lies.

One of the 'nice' things about living here in Brazil is that I'm sometimes considered a hot prospect by the Brazilian ladies, something I was generally not considered when I lived in the states. At least that's what I've been told- I am generally completely oblivious when someone is trying to hit on me and always have been. With this neighbor obliviousness was not an option. She shamelessly and blatantly offered herself to me on several occasions despite zero encouragement from me.

This all came to a head one evening as I was walking past the bar on my street and she was sitting at one of the outdoor tables with some people and said very loudly "There goes the best looking guy on the street." I ignored her. Fortunately for me, Evani happened to witness the incident from the window, and she was loud enough that Evani heard every word. I guess she had some sense of shame because she didn't bother me after that. Or maybe she was scared of Evani. Evani has made it quite clear that she would claw the eyes out of any woman who tries to jump my bones.

The only good thing about the annoying people who move in next door is that they always move away after a couple months, reportedly because it is such an unpleasant place to live.  This particular annoying neighbor did the same thing, moving to a house on the next street over and we didn't see her around much anymore. Fine with me. Evani, who is tapped into the grapevine here on our block, occasionally tells me random things about our neighbors and/or ex-neighbors. The two items I heard about this woman, whose name I don't even know, was that she had gotten into smoking crack and prostituting herself. Oh well- plenty of that going around. This week Evani told me she was dead.

I didn't know or like the woman, but I knew who she was and I'm always shocked when I hear something like that, much more than Evani is.  Evani has seen so many people around her die that it doesn't faze her unless she really liked the person.  She sometimes accuses me of not believing things that she tells me, but the truth is that I find some of these things so hard to believe that I can't just accept them without being a bit incredulous. Blame the message, not the messenger. This is at least the fourth ex-neighbor that has died under less than natural circumstances since we moved here, and I can't even count how many have kicked off, or been kicked off, in Paripe. Another acquaintance of hers, a drinking buddy of her brothers who I met a couple times died this week as well. She told me some other guy who I never met was murdered the other day. As far as I know, no murders have happened on our street since we've lived here, although I did hear a dog get shot at five in the morning the next street over about a month ago.

When Evani told me about this woman I had to modulate my reaction, something I've learned to do with mixed success over the years in order for her not to think I don't believe her and also not to appear overly interested in what happened, to keep her from getting suspicious. The story, which did get 'confirmed' by another gossip hound on our street, is far from clear- apparently she was selling herself to sailors here in the bay (a practice detailed in the movie Cidade Baixa (Lower Citywhich takes place here in Salvador) but nobody knows if she was murdered or overdosed or what.

To conclude... how do I conclude? I already said I didn't like the woman, and I don't even know her name. She told Evani one time that she has a little girl somewhere that she is not raising; I feel badly for the kid, although she probably didn't know her mother real well. I doubt anyone here on the block is going to miss her much. I could go on and on about how awful poverty and drug addiction and prostitution are. As I have said before in this blog, everybody knows that stuff already.  But you understand it a lot better when someone says "Hey, remember that woman that lived next door? She's dead now."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Play is Hard Work and Other Assorted Novelties

I'm gonna try to make this fast, as I really should be doing other things...

Lucas got such a workout playing all day that he fell asleep right under my desk chair, with me in it. I told him he could play in the office if he left me alone to work, and he sure managed that. I noticed he was getting awful quiet and then I looked down and he had fallen asleep. Also in this photo is half of my new drawing table, which I found for sale in a second hand shop for about 20 dollars. With a fresh coat of black paint, a few shiny new washers, and a minor modification with a drill and some large nails to make it height adjustable, I'm just thrilled with it. I'd been wanting one for a long time.

Today was 'Retailer's Day' I think is the best translation... man but they have a lot of holidays here in Brazil, and in Bahia in particular. Some people have a hard time believing all the holidays we have here, especially people who are expecting work from me in the northern hemisphere... Almost all retail stores were closed today, and even the street sellers who make up the 'informal economy' didn't put out their pirated dvds or plastic toys or watches or whatnot. It made walking down the street positively pleasant, which is not how I would generally describe it.

In other news, we had our third to last graffiti class tonight- it's been fun but I'm ready for it to end. I've got to get back to Capoeira or give it up for good, and if I do that I really need to find some other form of exercise because I'm all aches and pains from sitting in front of the computer all day.

Last week we went out to do a painting in the street- the first round of the election is over, which opens up a bunch of walls for us graffiteiros again, as long as they aren't still in use for the runoff election for mayor (ie: if the wall has a 15 or a 13 on it, stay away). We walked around a bit and finally settled on this this wall, which is at the top of a small cliff. It didn't look so tough from the ground, but we discovered it was a bit more harrowing from up top. Instead of strolling out in broad daylight to paint a wall at street level which is what we normally do, we painted this at night, clinging with one arm at all times to the wall to keep from tumbling down the slope. Luckily, nobody did. The owner was really cool and gave us permission and even made us popcorn!

I realized as I was about to start that the drawing I had hastily prepared had been drawn with the perspective such that it looks as though you were viewing it from above, which was ridiculous considering that it could only be viewed from below. I tried to adjust for this, which was pretty tough considering I could not move further than 6 inches away from the wall, and therefore was viewing it from a very acute angle looking down from above. I was less than pleased with the result. The tough thing about making graffiti is that unline playing a lousy game of Capoeira, which is over when it's over and you can get over it, graffiti can stay there for literally years reminding everyone of the shitty piece you did. This is especially true here, where people generally don't paint over other's pieces. That only happens at election time. Anyhow, it looked at least mediocre to me when I went back to take this picture. I thought this guy I did on the stairs was better:

Also I had the bright idea to have an election night party on November 5th. Now I have to find someone with cable TV where we can watch the returns... and get a bunch of sympathetic US expats together...

OK I'm not going to edit this post... I'm just going to leave you with another painting of mine from the course. We all painted the same thing, but this one is definitely mine.

What the hell- I'll do one more. This is a picture Lucas took of the microwave.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Got Out And Voted

I just voted.

Just now. I just filled in my absentee ballot and sealed the envelope. Tomorrow I'll give it to the woman codenamed 'The Librarian' at the U.S. Consular Agency here in Salvador, where it will go via diplomatic pouch to Florida, where it gets dumped into the regular mail and eventually wends its way to Massachusetts.

I'm not going to be coy about it, I voted for Obama. And although I'm not as Obama crazy as some people in my family (you know who you are, family) I very very very much want him to win and for that reason am going through the hoops necessary to get this ballot off.

Not that my vote makes any difference- it makes no difference at all, except for the fact that I want to be able to say that I voted for the first African American president. Massachusetts is not a swing state by any stretch of the imagination (tonight I voted for John Kerry for senator on the same ballot fercryinoutloud) and I've used that excuse not to vote in the last couple elections- the electoral college doesn't care who I vote for. Massachusetts is a given.

I voted in this election for me, and I voted for my son. Here in Brazil, Obama would be considered 'mixed race' and not simply 'black,' because there isn't as sharp a dividing line between white and black here. Every time I look at Obama I think about my son, who has a heritage as strange and... colorful... as Obama's. White European post-hippie middle class father from New England, black Brazilian nominally catholic mother with a very humble background in the periphery of Salvador.

Anyhow, every time I write a post like this, that starts to get serious about something, that cries out for a swelling orchestral soundtrack, I end up not publishing it. So I'm not going to get all heavy and philosophical about this. I've said what I'm going to say about race and change and all that, except for one more thing: I want Obama to win because at least one thing will change, at least one barrier will be broken, and that's the world I want my son to grow up in.

All that being said, I wish the election were over already. Evani's getting sincerely bothered at my involvement in it and so am I. I'm starting to feel like McCain, all twitchy and agitated. Good luck to you, Mr. Obama, and do right by us when you get in there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beautiful Boy

I just had the strangest experience, not five minutes ago.

Lucas, who had been sleeping, woke up and half-sleepwalked into my office. I took him back to bed and read him a book and sang what was my number one bedtime song for him- 'This Old Man.' It worked, and he slept again. I laid there for a bit with his head on my chest, stroking his hair. It was very pleasant. Then I got up, and looked down at him.

I have never felt that Lucas looks much like me. That's not a bad thing, he's a beautiful kid. He's got a crazy mix of genes in there and it looks like they've combined in an extremely complimentary fashion. I always figured he would start to look more like me when he gets bigger, and develops the notorious Pfohl body type- long torso, short legs, sloping shoulders. I guess it's possible it's not in the mix, but I bet he gets it eventually.

I don't know if it was because of my stroking it, but there was a patch of his hair where the curls had loosened up and come almost completely out, so his hair was practically straight, as straight as mine. One thing Lucas does have just like me is the color of his hair- not the hair I had as a kid, which was super blond, but the dark ash-blond I've had since adolescence. So there I was, gazing in wonder at this one part of his head, which for the first time looked exactly like mine.

I think I'll go have another look.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What's Up With The Dollar?

Today the US stock market dropped 777 points, everyone says that the US economy is about to tank, so why the hell is the US dollar suddenly getting stronger against the dollar? It had dropped to 1.6 Brazilian Reis to the dollar and sat there for the longest time, yesterday it was 1.7 to the dollar, this morning it was 1.8, right now it is 1.9 to the dollar.

I don't know jack about economics, what is going on?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quite a Weekend

It's been one hell of a weekend. Busy. Crazy. And even fun- who could ask for more?

Two big things happened this weekend; the first being Evani's annual Caruru, the second was my first appearance at a craft fair in about ten years.

Part I - Caruru

Let's talk Caruru first. 'Caruru' is a kind of okra-based food, and one of the staples of Bahian cuisine. But when talks about a Caruru, what they mean is a huge meal that is handed out to everyone who wants it until it is gone. I always feel kind of goofy when I try to describe these things, but basically a Caruru is a kind of religious obligation in the Candomblé, given on the feast day of São Cosme and São Damião (September 27th).

There was about a week of pre-preparations for this event, which included several trips to the Feira de São Joaquim, which is a huge market here in the city with hundreds of stalls selling everything from candy to meat to fish to fruit to fireworks to spices to Candomblé supplies which includes everything from beads to amulets to costumes to statues to gunpowder to live animals. One trip she bought several kilos of dried shrimp, peanuts, beans, ginger, popcorn, and candy, on the last trip she bought a whole sack of quiabo, know to us English speakers as okra. There was also a call for pots, huge restaurant-size pots with upwards of five gallons capacity, which we were loaned from three or four different people.

After the pre-preparations, Evani and four or five others spent two whole days cooking. This included an entire evening dicing up the quiabo. Evani baked a cake. Where was her miserable, shiftless husband during all this? He was upstairs, printing t-shirts, madly trying to prepare for his own upcoming event. More about that later. He had also helped with the preparations, making trips to the feira and the supermarket, buying soda and beer and plates and forks and little bags to put candy in.

This was the first Caruru that Evani gave at our house- previously she gave them in Paripe because she worried that nobody would show up here and we'd end up with tons of extra food. But really you are supposed to make it where you live, and give it out to the people in your neighborhood, the idea being that whatever you give, you get back twice over. I invited all my gringo friends and most of them showed up. My neighbor showed up and said apologetically that she had a whole houseful of people with her, not expecting that it would be cool for them to come in. I said bring 'em all! It was truly an immense amount of food.

There is a little ceremony at the start of a Caruru, where seven children sit on the floor and eat seven plates of food, with their hands, before everyone else can eat. There are songs that are sung and prayers spoken. I, shiftless, miserable husband that I am, was upstairs during this part, giving a tour of the house to some friends who had never seen it.

Then everyone ate. And drank beer. When everyone in the house had eaten, people started to show up at the door asking for plates of food- the word was out. This is part of the deal, so we made many many plates of food and handed them out to all comers. And they were big plates of food. The one notable exception to the big-plate rule was for an American guest who is a vegetarian and doesn't eat shrimp- almost everything has shrimp in it. She got only the white, flavorless stuff- rice, popcorn, some kind of tuber, and fried bananas for a touch of color.

The Caruru was a great success. We decimated the food and everyone was happy. We all went to bed and Sunday came around. My first day at the craft fair.

Part II - Craft Fair

I originally signed up to participate in the fair both Saturday and Sunday, but being the absent-minded, self-absorbed guy that I am, I forgot that this overlapped with Evani's Caruru. In an attempt to be a decent and supporting husband, I canned the first day of the fair in favor of being at the party. I think this was a good call.

As I mentioned previously, I had spent a couple days printing shirts for the event. My pre-preparation over the previous week involved buying blank shirts, getting a rubber stamp made, buying shopping bags and screen printing ink, and spray-painting little wooden boxes. All this within walking distance of my house- I love living in the thick of things!

Although I did some screen printing back when I was in high school, I realized at some point during my print marathon that I had far outstripped all my previous screen printing experience. I also began encountering problems that I had never previously encountered. Such as the fact that the ink kept wanting to dry in the screen, which meant I had to stop and wash it. In the end, I ended up with only about forty shirts worth selling. I beefed up this number by bringing along with me all the blank shirts I hadn't had time to print yet.

At the event, I got two plastic tables, a plastic chair, and a tent-like canopy to protect me and my wares in the event of rain. Not a hell of a lot for 50 reis for two days, especially since I had to share my canopy with a strange man selling ceramic stuff. Ugly ceramic stuff. This might be a good time to mention that I found most of the stuff at the fair to be quite hideous, and I went in with pretty low expectations. Actually, to be honest, I had managed my expectations quite well until the day before at the Caruru, when I got so much positive reaction to my shirts that I started to think I might actually make some money at the event.

Little did I know.

Good thing I brought lots of projects along to keep me busy. I had stickers to cut out, boxes to paint, and postcards to stamp with my new stamp. People walked by and a few of them looked at stuff and almost nobody expressed any real interest. It was starting to look like all the other craft fairs I participated in in the past- all four of them. At one, a zucchini festival in Vermont, I got so bored that I made signs for the zucchinis that had been strewn about by the sponsors of the event. I was asking fifty dollars for one particularly large specimen. I think a couple of people actually thought I was serious.

After a few hours I sold a postcard for twenty five cents. That's Brazilian cents- making it worth about 15 precious US pennies. Nonetheless, I was happy- I had broken a psychological "I'm never going to sell anything" barrier in my brain.

Evani and the kids came to visit me, which was a mixed success- they were all tired (like me) from the Caruru and Lucas was being particularly grumpy. I think it was while I was being distracted by some random action on his part with my art supplies that someone stole one of my little Femo critters.

I have very little invested in my Femo critters- little colorful blobs with big eyes. They were intended to help round out my 'product line' and give me something inexpensive to sell. Nobody bought one, but they came in handy to keep my postcards from flying away in the breeze. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I guess theft is also a weird way of showing your appreciation for something.

Let me take this opportunity to make a confession- I have a hard time with teenagers, particularly when they are in groups. I think that groups of teenagers are like jet-skis, or snowmobiles, or off-road motorcycles. If you're on the noisy, stinky, obnoxious machine, or in the noisy, obnoxious, and sometimes stinky group of teenagers, it's great fun. However, if you're on the outside, it's rather unpleasant to be in the vicinity.

That's how one of my critters got stolen- a group of middle to upper class teenagers (not stinky) stationed themselves in front of my booth, effectively scaring off my potential customers and generally annoying me. One of them took a great interest in one of the cute little monsters I had made. After they left, I discovered the monster was gone.

Evani overheard my troglodyte neighbor with the ugly ceramics call me a vacilão at this point. This is a common insult for 'someone who vacillates,' at least as far as I can tell. An odd insult, but one of the worst things you can call someone in Portuguese is a 'disgrace' disgraça!! so go figure. Good thing he didn't call me that, or Evani would have torn him a new asshole. Evani didn't tell me about this until later, which was a good call on her part. I would not have torn him a new asshole, but I would have been considerably grumpier than I already was. She said the guy was just envious of my work. He didn't sell a single thing.

Evani and the kids left and I focused on painting boxes, bemoaning my foolish expectations and wasted money. And then the strangest thing happened- I sold two shirts! Not for as much as I wanted, but I sold them. And I was happier.

The troglodyte packed up and left early. I didn't see one person make so much as inquire what he was asking for his garbage. I decided to stick it out until the end, which turned out to be a good call. As I was starting to pack up, a kid and his slightly wacky mom and another equally wacky woman I presumed to be her sister showed up and bought first one, then two postcards. I let them borrow a pen so the kid could fill out the card for his dad. They became interested in one of the shirts, but didn't want to spend 15 reis on it. I said I'd sell it for 12. She said she'd think about it.

I packed up all my shirts in their plastic bin and left the shirt in question on top. Sure enough, as I was almost ready to go, she came back and bought it- this time borrowing a pen to write a message around the bottom of the shirt to her boyfriend. I was happier. Evani called and I told her I'd be right home. I packed up the last of my gear.

Then suddenly the woman came back. She wanted another shirt! She dug through my whole bin in search of a shirt she was convinced she had seen, her son exclaiming loudly "You're messing up all his shirts!" I didn't care. Faz parte, they say in Portuguese. Part of the deal. She ended up buying two more shirts.

I was happy enough. I sold five shirts and three postcards. I didn't break even, but I figured that if I'd been there the day before and sold the same amount, I would have broken even. Not exactly a smashing success, but I didn't see anyone else selling much either. They tell me things start picking up at the fair now, it being the beginning of the tourist season and Christmas not far down the road. I'm signed up for one more weekend at the end of October. If it goes well, I'll sign up for more. If it doesn't go better than this last one, I'll be looking for other fairs. I already am.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I'm tired.

That's nothing new- I'm often, some would say usually, some might even say always tired.

But tonight I'm tired in a good way, even at almost 10 PM, as I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do with the rest of the evening. My 'evening' usually starts at about 10, which helps explain why I am so tired all the time.

Not fourteen minutes ago (14, for some reason is Lucas' preferred number), I discovered I'm part of a site I didn't even know existed. It's called flickriver, and as it's name suggests it is somehow related to flickr, here are my most interesting photos according to the site.

But of course that's not what I planned to write about this evening. I wanted to write about the class I just came back from, my graffiti class, the best one yet.

The graffiti class has been fun. I didn't take the class because I felt I needed to- after all, I learned to play guitar and write html and speak Portuguese all on my own- I probably could have done the same with spray paint. But I thought it would be fun and I thought it might actually save me some cash in the long run if I could pick up some tips from more experienced graffiteiros rather than learning them the hard way at 15 reis a can.

Most of the first classes were essentially reviews of stuff I did in my first art classes- basic drawing skills, basic perspective, very basic color theory. But that was cool- 15 years down the road is a good time to review the basics and I can't remember the last time I did a drawing of a cone, a cube, and a cylinder.

The very first class was all about writing tags- we all got our own fat tag markers and black books- basic graffiteiro gear. Tagging really doesn't interest me at all, but it helped me make the decision that if I was going to take this class, that I would focus on the basics of classic graffiti, letters and such, since that's not stuff I generally do on my own.

The classes that have been more interesting for me have been the graffiti oriented ones- learning about different caps for the spray paint and their different uses, how to construct letters in 3D, the qualities of the various brands of paint.

When I got to class today we had little boxes waiting for us (there are only three students including me), each with five cans of paint in it. This was exciting in itself, because having five new cans of paint all to myself is a major splurge, and not one I indulge in very often. The colors were not ones I would have picked on my own: three shades of pink, plus black and white. Actually, I would have picked the black and the white - hard to paint graffiti without them. As for the pinks, we got pink because nobody wants pink- these were slightly rusty old cans that have been sitting around the store forever. Fair enough, pink was fine. Pink was great.

We spent the first half hour of the class shaking the cans and waiting for the guy who was supposed to teach to show up. He paints amazing photo-realistic faces, and since the class was intended to teach us to paint 'personagens,' or characters, he was the perfect guy to do it.

Only problem was, he didn't show up.

After a half hour Sins, who owns the graffiti store and put together the course, made an executive decision and grabbed a small canvas painted by another talented graffiteiro and told us we were all going to paint it. Each of us on our own sheet of plywood.

And that's what we did for the next two hours, trying to get the lighting and the shadows right and do shading and outlines and all the rest. I don't have much to say about it, except that it reaches a point where it gets really frustrating, because it's really hard to control the damn paint and not paint over something you don't intend to. Nice sharp lines start to fade away under a mist of other colors, or the can moves an inch too far in one direction and a line disappears, which means starting over and layering everything back up.

At one point Sins came by and laughed, saying that everything I do is clearly of my own style, even when I'm trying to copy someone else's stuff. That's cool, I have no problem with that. My strong style is my greatest asset as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, September 22, 2008

First Sale

Here comes another PowerPost™... maybe I should just switch to twitter...

So I found out today that one of my shirts got sold - the first sale of MarkuzArtes Limited, Brazil!


He told me he sold it to a French Graffiteiro who was here for the graffiti event. Thanks dude- you the man! Now I gotta figure out which one he was.

So here's the thing- I owe the guy who sold it cash for something else, so I was going to ask him to give me one Real (Brazilian dollar) and keep the rest- the one Real being my first income, I was gonna do the cheesy diner thing and put it in a frame and hang it proudly on the wall. Was gonna? Am gonna! I have not aborted the plan. But here's the thing- Evani tells me that the superstition here in Brazil is you have to keep all the money you make on the first sale, so I have to collect the money, then pay back my debt with physically different money. Sounds good to me.

Nice little lead-in to the craft fair. Which I have too much to do to prepare for. Would like to push it back a week, but don't think that's going to happen.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Random Items

Since I seem to be having trouble getting a nice chunk of time and proper headspace for blog entries (I generally need an hour and nothing more important to do), I'm going to do a PowerPost™ of a couple random items and be done with it.

Item 1

A few postcard requests have been rolling in, which is cool- I sent off three cards to the United States last week- one to a class of high school art students. Yeah! A few days ago I checked my email and there was a new one- from Azerbaijan. I thought this was very cool, but I also suspect it might be a prank. What the hell- I'll send the postcard, and maybe I'll ask them to send me a photo of it with something Azerbaijan-y in the background.

Item 2

I'm getting ready to participate in a craft fair, I'm signed up to have a table next weekend. This is one of the topics I have been hoping to write a post about, but haven't gotten to yet. Yesterday I was setting up a table to do some screenprinting, and Lucas decided he was going to paint a motorcycle on the underwear we had found under the couch when we moved it... So of course I let him. He wanted to paint it red but I encouraged him to add some yellow as it looked like a big bloody mess. Here he is, painting the motorcycle:

Item 3

Here's my latest shirt:

Item 4

Street art, wheatpaste, graffiti- it continues. And the election is in TWO WEEKS which means lots of wall space opening up even if I don't have cash for paint... More topics that were intended to be full-blown posts- the fact that I'm taking my first class in 15 years or so, in graffiti, and the first international graffiti event just happened last week, and I didn't really participate at all. It's a long story. Or not.

Item 5

I gotta go to BED

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Three Mice

I'm going to break my blogfast with a little poem:

I bought three mice today,
today I bought three mice

No, that's too limericky...

Today I bought three mice
Two USB, and one PS2
One with a little ball
And two optical.

I know that seems like a lot
But I had just one that worked
And four places that needed them.

One for the laptop upstairs
And one for the laptop downstairs
And one for the upstairs laptop when it's at the office
And one for the Old Dinosaur.

I know that seems like a lot
But my three computers
Do three different things.

One speaks Portuguese
Which makes it family friendly
And now it has a Portuguese keyboard
And an old fashioned mouse with a ball
Because optical mice
Don't work
On the glass table

Where it sits.

One is The Dinosaur, and it runs IE6
To test
And it still has
Most of my music collection
On it.

The computer I ordered
From the internet cafe
On my first visit to Brazil
In the last days
Of 2001.

The last one is Whitevolt
My classy snazzy Macbook

Which does everything else.
It can run two operating systems
At the same time.

Now I have four keyboards
And four mice
To go with my three computers
Two of which already have built in keyboards
And trackpads.

I know that seems like a lot
But I bought the cheapest ones I could find
There's not a cordless one in the bunch
And if they fall on the floor
They'll probably break.

Please don't tell my neighbors
That I have all this hardware.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Today I spent most of an hour scraping crud off of one of my plants.

This plant was so lucky because it is sentimental to me, being the first plant I bought here in Brazil, for my first apartment. It got a lot bigger, then I smallerized it, now it's bigger again.

I'm not quite sure how this plant manages to survive. During the winter (aka the 'rainy season') the tops of its leaves get covered with a black crud as thick as my fingernail and the undersides get covered with some kind of powdery white stuff. Eventually, if unchecked, this leads to the leaves falling off and probably the eventual death of the plant. That is- if I don't spend a couple hours a year washing the crud off with a soapy rag.

This isn't its first brush with death this plant has experienced in my care. Besides the recurring black and white cruds, one time almost all the leaves fell off and it became infested with horrible little scale bugs that are the bane of my existence. That time, I transplanted it and discovered that the pot was filled with earthworms- dozens of them. I have no idea how so many earthworms were managing to survive in there. I removed as many as I could, and the plant spent some time outside in Paripe where the ants took to the scale bugs and apparently killed them off, and once again the plant was healthy. The plant also suffers from weird little barnacle like things, little black nodules that I can snap off with a fingernail.

With the exception of the scale bugs, which I battled even in New England, I don't know what any of these weird parasites and/or diseases are. They baffle me, and I don't have the time or energy to deal with them. Consequently, many of my plants suffer, and too many of them die. This is a real shame because I have always been a plant person, and ideally would live in a house filled with plants, so that a visitor would be uncertain where the indoors ends and the outdoors begins. Doubly ironic is that I live in the tropics, which should be a dream come true for my taste in plants. I have always preferred succulents, the more bizarre the better. Give me an odd looking little stumpy thing with fat leaves and I'm a happy guy. Being hot weather plants, my succulents lived stunted little lives on my chilly windowsills in New England. Here in Brazil, I can grown them outdoors, theoretically to great sizes. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few extra hardy specimens, this has not turned out to be the case. Plants I couldn't kill in North America have withered and died here in my care- I even killed a spider plant!

Not all of my plants have died. In fact, I realized a couple years ago that I'd never owned a potted plant that was taller than me- now I have several. I also have a few that flower, seemingly to spite me. One is a cactus that flowers with great frequency. I have actually only seen the flowers on this plant once, since I am a late riser and they are always shriveled and gone by the time I get up, leaving behind odd pearly seed pods. I have tried, but never successfully planted one of these seeds. I had another fantastic philodendron that grew about 20 feet up the side of the air shaft in the middle of our house. It was very impressive until it became infected with the evil scale bugs, which killed off all but the topmost leaves. Now they seem to have arrived at a host/parasite impasse, with the bugs not quite able to finish it off and the plant not able to regenerate.

Another sad failure was the bamboo plant I bought- I had high hopes for it and I love bamboo, but it did terribly here in the house. It also got infected with the scale bugs and almost died, so I finally brought it out to Paripe and gave it to my brother in law. He's planted it in the ground and I'm sure it will recover brilliantly in his care. A couple years ago when it was doing better I divided it and gave him half, which he then repotted in the thick reddish clay-laden soil that is prevalent here, and it flourished while mine whithered. I couldn't believe the thing could survive in that dirt.

I think this may be part of my problem. When I lived in New England, I used to prepare what I thought was a marvelous blend of topsoil, peat moss, sand, fertilizer, etcetera. I tried doing the same thing here but it never seems to have the desired Victory Garden result. Maybe this soil is too rich, or dries out too fast, or is too hospitable to critters. I don't know. I have noticed on several of my larger plants what look very much like worm castings on the surface of the soil. I've dug into these plants, expecting a repeat of my worm nightmare from back in the beginning, but I've never been able to locate the bugs that make them.

And then there are the ants that like to take up residence in the pots...

And the fact that I refuse to use pesticides...

I could go on

and on.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Adeus, Hamster

Today I succeeded in giving away the hamster.

I think of all of us who lived with the little fellow, I was the one who was most bummed out to see him go. Certainly far more than Ruan, his nominal owner. Ruan stopped paying attention to the thing a long time ago. I think Lucas will get upset about it once he realizes that its trip to the 'pet store' was one way, as he's taken a recent interest in the hamster, or at least the idea of it. He keeps telling me he's a hamster and then pretends he's going to run under the couch, at which point I grab him around the waist to prevent him from doing so. Evani will not miss the hamster at all, as she was the one who had the most interaction with it, smelling its stinky cage whenever she went outside to smoke cigarettes. She called it 'the rat.'

I decided to give the hamster, who never even got a name, after one too many times of finding its food dish empty. It arrived in the middle of Carnaval, in a cardboard box originally containing rat poison, and I let Ruan keep it in the hopes that he would 'learn some responsibility' from it, naive fool that I am. That experiment failed utterly.

I liked the little fellow, and didn't mind taking it out of its cage from time to time and feeding it, but the truth was that I wasn't all that interested in it either and started to forget to feed him too. A couple times I caught him peering at us with unusual intensity as Evani was smoking, only to realize that he was trying to say that the food had run out some time ago and would we feed him please.

Things might have turned out differently if Evani had not insisted that he not be allowed to live inside the house. Her nose is exceptionally sensitive and she was not willing to accommodate the smell within the house. She barely tolerates my smell. That's why we only have fish. I often remark on the irony of this because apparently she was raised with lots of animals- dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, even pigs at one point (not all in the house though). Her mother loved animals. Evani's not having it. Doesn't jibe with her ultra-clean nature. So I hammered some nails into the grout between some tiles and hung the hamster's little cage under the stairs in our 'service area' off of the kitchen. I find it amazing she put up with it as long as she did, as she kept threatening to veto its existence.

I'm just now looking at the Wikipedia article on hamsters to see if I was right that the poor guy must have been terribly lonely, which was the main reason I gave it away. Now I'm thinking I should have read it earlier, because it's telling me that Syrian hamsters are solitary and 'will fight to the death if put together,' which clearly runs counter to my theory. Oh well. I have no idea what species it was (apparently there are 18), and even if it is solitary, it was getting neglected. And it wasn't teaching Ruan anything about responsibility.

I tried to give the thing away earlier this week, which is part of why I feel badly about the whole deal. I arranged with the owner of the 'pet store' here in the largo to find a new home for it, which he did. He told me to come meet the woman at noon on Monday. I brought the hamster with me at the appointed time, in a paper bag which attracted quite a bit of attention. Not the cage, it's quite common to see men walking around with cages here, although they generally contain birds. Paper bags, however, are completely alien.

The woman wasn't there, and I left the hamster at the 'pet store' while I went and ran some errands. When she didn't show up half an hour later, I looked into the bag to see the poor hamster so abjectly terrified that he was hanging, suspended in the air, from his jaw as he tried to chew his way out through the wire bars. I felt so badly I left my phone number with the owner and took him back to his spot under the stairs.

Yesterday the woman called me, and despite my attempts to explain to her that I didn't want to leave the hamster at the 'pet store' in order not to traumatize him, that's exactly what she wanted me to do. So I did. Presumably terrified once again, I didn't go back to check. I hope she didn't take too long to pick him up, and that he's now in a happier, more stimulating environment. If indeed that's what he really wanted.

Argh. I'm such a freakin' softie. I'd really love to have a dog, or a cat, if it would be allowed to live in the house with us, but as I mentioned previously that's not an option. And we have no yard.

Why, you are asking yourself, if indeed you have gotten this far, do you keep calling it the 'pet store?' I'll tell you. It's a place you can go to buy animals, but it's not what you would call a pet store according to any preconceived middle-class mainstream American definition with the cute puppies in the window. It's like a hole, a shaft drilled into the building that houses it, completely dark except for a single lightbulb and entirely lined with cages filled mostly with birds. They have everything from a couple ducks out front to dozens of little songbirds, most likely culled from the vestiges of forest around the city. There are people who 'make a living' by trapping birds and selling them. Ruan's father is one of them, worthless fuck that he is. The decor, aside from the birds, ranges from dark gray to black, with the occasional white flash of guano. A place like that in the States would be shut down in a day, at least in any place I've ever lived.

Interestingly, they used the 'pet store' in an odd commercial or PSA or something that ran on TV a while ago. It was quite cool, actually. It showed two guys washing windshields at a stoplight, also close to my house. When they get enough esmola (change) together, they go and buy a couple birds and some fish at the 'pet store' (where they don't actually sell fish). Next, they carry the animals to the beach, and release them. That was it.

Goodbye, hamster. I hope they give you a name at your new home.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Most Obnoxious Time of the Year

My poor blog. It's getting neglected again. And things have been happening- I've printed t-shirts and new stickers, sent stickers to international sticker events, tried to give away the hamster, and more! I started this post weeks ago and only now got around to finishing it.

These are dark days for Graffiteiros.

Thousands of dollars of top-quality imported spray paint is disappearing beneath thin layers of cheapo latex paint, almost entirely in broad swaths of red, white, and blue. Twenty foot banners with letters up to four feet high are destroying dozens of wildstyles, characters, and burners: 'trampos,' 'personagems,' and 'letras' as they are known here. The intended lifespan of these hideous monstrosities? Three months.

What is this horrible plague, leading to the insane destruction of the city’s public artworks?

It’s called an ELECTION.

Aside from the premature demise of too many fine street paintings, election time is quite unpleasant here in Salvador. Worse than the drab ubiquitous names of the candidates everywhere you turn are the dozens of cars with large speakers strapped to their roofs, blasting political jingles to further inundate us with candidate’s names, parties, and numbers. A friend of ours, visiting from Brazilia, saw one of these mobile aural advertisements and said they are prohibited in Brazilia, presumably a public nuisance. Man do I wish that was the case here as well.

The other thing that happens, which is not all bad, is a pre-election surge in public works in an attempt to save the incumbent's asses. This is completely transparently re-election-ly motivated, as everyone knows it and says so. Work on the Metro, stalled for months, has suddenly picked up again, and this year lots of drainage canals along principal routes through the city are being enlarged. Lots of the principal roads are getting repaved, which they needed desperately. This work will stop immediately after the election.

An amusing joke made the rounds by email a while ago- I found a version here, using our esteemed president Lula as the subject- if you speak Portuguese, have a look.

A politician dies and Saint Peter tells him that, being the first politician to be granted entry into Heaven, he is going to be given the choice of going to Heaven or Hell. He’ll have a day to spend in each place and afterwards he can decide where he will spend the rest of eternity.

First he goes to Hell, where he is met by all his old earthly politician buddies, who are having a big barbecue. They all have a fantastic time eating and drinking and swimming in the pool and doing all that stuff that politicians love to do.

Heaven is nice enough but kind of bland. Harps, clouds, Angels, peace and quiet.

When the guy gets back to St. Peter, not surprisingly he chooses Hell over Heaven.

When he gets back to Hell, the pool is gone, as is the barbecue and all the rest. In their place are the conventional fires, chains, and eternal torment.

“What happened??” he asks Satan.

Satan replies: “Yesterday we were campaigning. Today we got elected.”

Last election I witnessed a couple ‘amusing’ things. One was one of these local politicians who’s name is literally everywhere in parts of the city at election time make a visit to Evani’s family’s neighborhood in Paripe. He came in, shook some hands, shot the shit, and the only thing I remember him saying was that it was time to get the folks there a neighborhood football (soccer) team. This was met with some fanfare from the people who were gathered around. Do they have the football team today? Do you need to ask? Did he say anything about jobs, or clean water, or laying sewage lines, or housing, or food or anything?? No, of course he didn’t. Is he still in office? Of course he is. Will he be voted out this year? Of course he won’t.

The other thing they did that year for her neighborhood was what they call a cala boca, which translates as ‘shut your mouth.’ The idea is that the local government makes an improvement to get the people to stop complaining. As you can see from it’s popular name, it is recognized for what it is and treated cynically. They came in and laid down a thin layer of asphalt over the broken and twisted dirt road that leads into the neighborhood, doing nothing to prepare the surface beforehand, and sticking in three or four steep speed bumps as they went. Predictably, this cala boca is mostly destroyed now.

I've been following the American election pretty closely from afar (closely from afar?), and I suppose I've gotten a bit more cynical as a result of watching the mess they make of it here. I like Obama, I like him alot, but anyone who can run for national office and have a shot at the presidency is not the warm, fuzzy (or stern and Presidential) he or she tries to come off as on TV. There's a lot more going on there, and it ain't all pretty.

I actually heard a PSA on the only radio station worth listening to here a couple days ago that really surprised me- it said, in very plain terms, that you have to use your vote carefully because if you elect a corrupt politician then everyone suffers as a result.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to the end of the election, when we'll have a bunch of new and or old morons running the show, and all this cheap political paint gets whitewashed again- presenting many thousands of square feet of blank canvas for the graffiteiros.

Myself included.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Drive Like Hell

Today I made a terrifying drive in the car with Lucas, something I'm sure all too many parents have had to do with their small children, a drive my parents took with me once when I was about his age.

We were all in Paripe earlier today, eating lunch, and Lucas was playing with his little cousin Adriane who is three weeks his junior. I noticed he had a bump under his eye, like a hive (if one can have one hive). This hive suddenly got bigger, and was joined by another right next to it, and they were growing so fast we could almost watch them increase in size.

Lucas has always had allergies, and they get worse in the winter down here, and I've always been afraid that they might get even worse. I've watched nervously as he tries new foods like peanuts in fear that he might have a severe reaction. That's what I thought I was witnessing today. I listened to his breath and he was wheezing, which set off the alarm klaxon so I threw some clothes on him, threw him in the car, and took off.

Despite my sister-in-law's last minute advice not to drive too fast, I drove very fast. The children's hospital where I take him whenever something happens is quite close to our house, but probably forty minutes by car. I got there in... substantially less than that. There was no way I was taking him to one of the crappy public hospitals that are much closer- they sometimes have no doctors on duty, and who knows about medications and the rest. Evani should have another younger sister, but she died as an infant of an infection she caught at the hospital closest to Paripe.

As I was driving like mad, I was also trying to keep Lucas from going to sleep. I know that you aren't supposed to let kids sleep if they get hit on the head, and I've heard anecdotally that you don't want to drift off if you should find yourself riddled with bullets, but I don't know about allergic reactions. I wasn't taking any chances. Lucas wanted to sleep quite badly and I think I scared him with my nonstop nervous shouted conversation and grabbing his foot. He started crying and calling for his mom. His eye swelled almost shut- the two hives turned into one big balloon under his right eye.

Finally after what seemed like hours of driving I got to the hospital and rushed him inside. The doctor on duty told me that he was breathing fine and his heart was fine and showed me a previously unnoticed red spot on his cheek directly below the balloon - some kind of bug bite. Since he hadn't complained of any bites, we suspect it was an ant. She told me it was okay for him to go to sleep, so while we were waiting for them to administer some medication, he did just that. He slept for a full hour while he was undergoing observation, awaking only briefly when he got a shot in the bum, not something he enjoyed particularly.

I'm sure I overreacted, but that's what parents do, right? At least I had the car and the insurance and the hospital to go to. Sitting around waiting for it to subside, wondering if it would get worse, is what too many people here in the city are forced to do. Evani's sister told me she'd done just that with her son when he had a very similar experience. Then again, I don't know if she's even heard of anaphylactic shock so maybe she wasn't as flipped out as I was.

When I was about Lucas' age, maybe a little younger, I fell off the back of a small stool as I was eating some nuts. A couple of these nuts lodged themselves over my windpipe, and my parents had to rush me to the hospital as I could barely breathe. Then, they had to rush me to another hospital because the first one said they couldn't deal with it. This was in a part of the country where all destinations are separated by many miles of trees and fields. At one of these hospitals, a doctor told my mom that I might not make it. Thanks, Doc.

Lucas is fine and was busy playing again, his eye subsided but still quite puffy, when I left him again in Paripe to come home to work, again, on a Sunday. Oh- and did I mention it's Brazilian Father's Day? That was the 'quality time' I spent with Lucas today. When we got out of the hospital, the first thing he wanted was to go back to Paripe and see his mom.

I would have posted a photo but I didn't have my camera... and I'm one of the last on the planet without one built into my cell phone...