Thursday, February 28, 2008

Quero Meu Filho

When I came home from the office today, there was a woman outside our house banging on a car and screaming.

Quero meu filho! Quero meu filho!

She was saying "I want my son." She was also banging hard enough on the car to set off the alarm. She was attracting a lot of attention. She was also very drunk or wasted on something else. There were probably 20 people watching her at this point.

Quero meu filho!

Apparently the kid's father lives in the building across the street from us, which is a big 10 story building with lots of apartments. She started banging on the gate at the entrance of the building and more people came to watch. Nobody did anything to stop her, but a bunch of kids were busy goading her on and generally heckling her. The owner of the car she was pounding on arrived, and stood guard, but didn't mess with her even though she'd ripped off some rubber trim and I found out later had starred the windshield.

Where were the cops?

Once when I was living in Brattleboro Vermont I saw four cruisers respond to one drunk guy who busted a store window. Here, it's no wonder nobody calls the cops because they don't come anyways. I've called the cops to make a complaint and had them hang up on me. Or ask me: shouldn't I deal with the problem myself? Or just not show up at all.

Things progressed. The crowd swelled to fifty or maybe even 100 people watching her make a scene. At one point she ran off, and everybody poured out onto the street to watch her go, only to go running back to safety when she came back. Someone produced a child, who probably was her son, but she wasn't that interested in him after all, because she quickly went back to screaming at some woman behind the gate of the building. The poor kid was sobbing.

Finally she went too far. She started swinging on someone else's gate, and he told her to stop and threatened her with his chinelo, or flip-flop as we call them in the states. This is one of the preferred low-grade weapons for whacking people here in Salvador. And when she wouldn't leave the gate alone he gave her several chineladas, whacking her full in the face with the flip-flop. The crowd went nuts. She didn't seem very fazed by it, except that she stopped yelling. She turned her attention to her attacker, but he didn't want to pursue the conflict any further and was doing his best to avoid her.

Then she ran off again. And then a miracle happened. The cops showed up.

Most of the crowd went streaming to the corner where the cops had apparently caught up with her. Here they don't put people in the back seat, they open the hatchback and throw them in there. Cop cars are equipped with a steel grille between the cargo area and the back seat. We knew she was in there because we could hear her banging away at the inside of the car. They may have gotten there late, but they were prepared for the worst, one policeman was standing guard with his assault rifle at the ready. They came down and took a look at the car she had trashed, there was a loud and brief discussion, and they took off with her in the car.

That was the end of that. Just the latest of various similar episodes we've witnessed in the three years we've lived here.

Update: all this happened between about 7:30 and 8:30 in the evening. By 11:30 she was back, in the rain, considerably less wasted and confrontational. She was demanding again to see her son, and then I got distracted- when I came back she was gone. I imagine we'll see her again.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Light a Candle for Iansã

"Evani, I think you'd better light a candle for Iansã."

Iansã is the goddess of lightning. We just had, actually are still having, a crazy wind storm pass through. We don't get hurricanes or snow or tornadoes here in Salvador, but when it gets really windy or rainy, it can get scary.

We have reason to be scared. Two days before our wedding, we had a wind storm come through that lifted the roof right off of the air shaft that sits in the middle of our house. Not only the roof, but the two huge beams of massaranduba that support it as well. Massaranduba is a wood so dense that it won't float, and termites won't eat it, which makes for great building material here in the tropics. The wind lifted up two beams and the translucent tiles nailed to them and threw them over onto another section of roof, where it punched a couple big holes. Luckily for us, that storm was entirely wind and not a drop of rain or we would have been in real trouble. I had my father and three of my brothers here, and they all helped out to shore up the thing. Now those beams are held in place with big steel anchors cemented into the walls. If they weren't, they would certainly have flown again tonight.

Evani warned me that it was going to rain, and as I was sitting here working I was getting nice gusts of wind which I usually don't. Then the wind started for real and we could see out the window a nasty black storm approaching, with lots of lightning but no thunder. I jumped into action, grabbing towels and sticking them under the windows. I brought in the ladder so I'd have access to the attic in case the 'bica' overflowed. I took the rug out of the living room so it wouldn't get wet in case it flooded in there. We moved Lucas downstairs, sleeping soundly, because I get nervous about other people's roofs flying around as well- that happened to us once as well, and we had more punctures in our massive roof tiles. I unplugged everything.

And then we waited.

The wind was the worst. For about half an hour the tiles in the air shaft were making a terrible racket as they danced up and down, and every time there was a loud bang I ran up to the attic to make sure nothing had made a new hole in it. The wind blew and blew and there was some rain but it never really rained with any conviction.

Here's a video of the roof over the air shaft during the worst of the wind:

Thank goodness it didn't rain. When it rains here, it rains like I've never seen rain anywhere in my life. It can rain several inches in an hour. Whole hillsides can turn to jelly and slide away, taking houses with them. Roads flood. For us, it's our blessed 'bica' that's the problem. The way the house is constructed, we have a gutter that's inside the house, and the people who restored the house didn't do a real good job of making that gutter handle the kind of rain we get here. Our first Carnaval living here, we had a crazy rainstorm that caused the bica (that means gutter) to overflow and man did it overflow. Our bedroom got soaked and so did the living room and the hall downstairs. This happened because bits of masonry had clogged the down pipe and the whole thing backed up. I had the bright idea to stick rolls of chicken wire in there that keep this kind of detritus from causing problems, but when it rains really hard, like it did about a week ago, the bica just fills up and overflows anyways. This was my primary concern tonight.

But we got lucky this time. Shortly after I told Evani I thought she should light the candle, the wind started to die down. We had another short burst, but now it seems to have stopped completely. We can relax again, until the next time.

An Odd Conversation

I had a strange conversation yesterday.

I was out buying food for lunch- Evani was making feijão, a food I'm not sure I could live without any longer. Beans with smoked and salted meats- mmm! Delicious. I was walking by this little market we have in our neighborhood, a wide spot in the street with vendors selling vegetables. One guy started talking to me like he knew me- "How are you? You disappeared- have you been travelling?" I went over and asked him if he knew me. He said he used to live in my neighbor's house, in a room with a leaky sink.

My house shares a wall with my neighbor. Actually I share walls with two neighbors. This is something I would never opt to do again if I were to buy a house in the future- it's a pain in the ass. One of my neighbors is fine, the other, Mario, runs a rooming house and has upwards of a dozen people living there. He's caused me problems, mostly because of leaky sinks and so forth, which end up seeping through the wall and destroying my paint or worse. I complained some time ago, and apparently it was this guy's sink that was leaking. He said the owner came by three times to make sure it was fixed.

"Mario's terrified of you," he told me, apparently explaining his rapid action on my behalf. Why, I wondered, and am wondering still. Is it because I'm a foreigner, with my presumably deep pockets and potential to sue his ass off? Is there something he's hiding that he doesn't want me to know about? Some trouble I could get him in? I'm curious.

The guy told me that Mario is a miserable bastard. Said he has him in the courts because he robbed his stuff from his room. I couldn't understand much of what he said, I have a hard time understanding many Brazilians, particularly old-timers like this guy. Told me that Mario wanted to kill him.

I don't know- I've had some odd encounters with Mario but nothing that would lead me to believe he's capable of killing someone, or putting out a hit on them. He definitely is capable of throwing used condoms out the window, which is what someone was doing from his house shortly after we moved in. When confronted, he would get all pissed off and tell us there was no way they could be coming from his house. That kind of belligerent denial worked for a while, until whoever it was (and there's a good chance it was him) actually hit someone who was working here in the head with one, and he looked up to see a hand throwing the wrapper out after it- right out his window.

At least that doesn't happen anymore.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday is Graffiti Day

After a longish break, yesterday I finally got back to my latest passion: painting graffiti.

I have always been interested in Graffiti, but beyond one late night session under an overpass back when I was in college, I never did any. Everywhere I travel I always look for street art, and I was actually quite disappointed when I lived in both New York and Chicago and saw surprisingly little, and almost none of it very interesting.

Salvador also had very little to offer, with the exception of a unique tagging style that I saw quite a bit. I'm not big on tagging, so this wasn't terribly interesting to me, but I was interested enough to put a sample of it up on my website when I got back to the states after I got back from my first trip.

When I visited Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo I had a completely different experience. The graffiti was everywhere, huge walls covered with it, and of very high quality. I loved it! Unfortunately, Salvador still didn't have much of anything.

Then all of a sudden something changed. I started to see graffiti all over the place, and in really public places. I thought to myself- there is no way these guys are doing these paintings with any fear of the authorities. They were too public, and too elaborate. These guys were not running from the cops.

I found out later that I was right. In fact, the city government was funding some of these guys, taking them out and buying paint for them. By doing so, they opened the doors for lots of other folks to go out and do their thing. Through one of my neighbors, I met one of the most prolific artists here in the city, a guy called Limpo (which means 'clean' in Portuguese). I asked him how he goes about painting and told him I wanted to go out with him sometime to paint as well. Sure, he said, I go out usually on Sundays and you are welcome to come along.

Great, I though, I'm in! Now I just needed to get my rusty painting skills back up to speed. Although my experience with spray paint was limited, I'd done a fair amount of mural sized brush paintings, and I figured that's what I'd continue doing. When I finally got around to calling Limpo back, he asked what kind of stuff I did. I told him I was going to use a paintbrush and acrylic paint. You've never used spraypaint, he asked? No, I told him, but I could give it a try. Oh, what a perilous and costly decision I made in that instant! But it's been worth it. He told me to check out Bomb Bahia - Salvador's own graffiti store, and as fate would have it, it was right around the corner from me! I ran out and got my first two cans of paint and started painting my patio area that same evening.

After that came a couple months of serious effort to get some handle on the medium. It's intense working with spray paint, because it's so big, and so fast. You can paint a huge area in a relatively short period of time, and you are pretty much forced to work large because the minimum line width is fairly wide, depending on how skilled you are. The results can be viewed here.

Then things dried up. I went on a trip to the States, and spent too much money, and couldn't buy paint. All my free time was spent working and trying to get out of debt, and dealing with the holidays, and then Carnaval. Finally yesterday the dry spell ended. We went to Ilha de Mare, which is famous to players of Capoeira Angola as the home of many legendary mestres. There are no roads, and no cars, and no dock- when you get there by boat you either wade in or jump into a rowboat and get pushed to shore. We go there with some frequency, and I brought four cans of paint with me, determined to break my fast.

After several hours of drinking and eating and roasting in the sun, I was ready to go- I had planned to find an abandoned wall and paint it, but Evani asked our waiter if he knew of a place I could paint. "Right here," he said, indicating the side of the bar, and the owner confirmed this. I went to it. Here, the danger isn't the police, it's the sun- I have gotten sunburned more than once making graffiti. The owner liked it so much he wanted me to paint more inside, which I did, until I ran out of paint. I was pretty much done anyways, the beer and the sun had drained me pretty well. You can see this entire painting here.

Everyone here seems to love graffiti, and are very enthusiastic about my work, although I personally think I have a ways to go before I'm making really quality stuff. The ideas are good though- there ain't nobody doing work like me here in the city. And I'm determined to be a moving target- a lot of these guys paint pretty much the same thing over and over- there's the frog guy, and the cow guy, and the robot guy, and of course lots of people who only do letters. I want to paint something different every time, or at least every two or three times.

Now I just need cash for more paint!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Motorcycle Update

I ran into my neighbor Claudio yesterday and he told me that the Argentininan guy I wrote about the other day is still at his house. Turns out he took his big old motorcycle to Pelourinho and parked it on the street, and when he came back to it it was on its side, with a busted windshield and rear view mirror. The guy rides all the way from Florida to here, via Patagonia, and his bike gets messed with here- in my adopted city.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there aren't a lot of Goldwings here in Salvador, so apparently the guy has to get parts shipped here from the US. He's stuck here until he gets them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Visitor

I installed Google Analytics to see if anyone was actually looking at this blog... and nobody was... but finally I've had one visitor! Thank you! Thank you, you anonymous Brazileiro/a - especially because you actually read something- I hope you enjoyed it!

So this opens a can of worms- do I actually want people to read this thing? I guess I do... at least, people who don't know me...

Update Feb. 29- I have now determined that this visitor was almost certainly me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

From Miami to Salvador, the Long Way

I often lament my almost daily distractions from whatever it is I have to do, but I must confess that today's was kind of cool.

Last night we got a phone call from Vera, a friend of Evani's who lives in southern Bahia. She had a guy she wanted me to talk to, an American who couldn't understand them very well. Turns out he wasn't an American, but actually an Argentinian who has been living in Florida for ten years. He has been all the way from Florida to the tip of Argentina by motorcycle, and is now on his way back. I told him to give me a call when he arrived in Savador, which he did.

I told him to meet me in the Praça da Piedade, and I went looking for the big motorcycle. It was a Honda Goldwing, a bike I have never seen in Salvador before. Immense. Most bikes here don't run over 250 cc's. I've seen a couple Honda Shadows and there is one Harley I see from time to time here in the Largo, but nothing like this. And it was getting lots of attention.

I'm pretty freaked out by motorcycles since my bad experience in Australia trying to do more or less the same thing he was doing, and I had never met the guy and Salvador is terrifying to drive in even in a car, but I had to take the opportunity to ride this thing, even if it was just the short distance from where I met him to our street, where I'd arranged for him to stay at our friend's house. It made sense actually, because it's a complicated route to drive even if the distance is short to walk. So I did- with the whole city staring. We stopped at one traffic light and two people took pictures of the motorcycle with their cell phones. It was a riot. And it was fun- I can only imagine what it's like to ride something like that on the open road.

I survived the trip, and even Ruan got a little taste out in front of the house. I set him up with a place to stay, and about an hour ago he paid us a visit and I told him some places he should really visit on that big old bike- the Chapada Diamantina foremost on the list- he'd never heard of it. I wished him well and off he went.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Stickers in Curitiba

I'd been checking my flickr account every day, and feeling like a jerk- until today, that is. That's because I'd been invited a few months ago to participate in the Expo Stickers 2008 in Curitiba, Brasil and sent off five hand-drawn stickers right before Carnaval. I had a few more, but Lucas got his hands on them and destroyed them, much to my surprise as he knows all about my stickers and I thought he'd respect them. But then again, he's only two. So I had received an email that my stickers had arrived, and I was waiting for him to post a picture of them. Today he posted it- here it is. I am immensely, disproportionately pleased by this- maybe because in some small way it means five years of a fine art's degree hasn't been completely pissed away, maybe because the big surge of time and energy spent making stickers and painting graffiti a couple months ago hasn't gone away for good.

More about the graffiti when I finally get out and paint some.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Sea of Bills and The ATM Time Warp

I mentioned in a previous post that paying bills require a post unto themselves. Here's giving it the post it deserves.

It used to be, once upon a time, in a different land, that I paid bills once a month for about an hour, at a table with a checkbook, the bills, some envelopes, and some stamps. Doesn't work that way here. I spend hours every month paying bills- standing in line at cash machines, and then standing in other lines at places that accept the bills, to be paid in cash. Most of these places don't accept all the bills I need to pay, so I have to go to several locations. Also, the bills arrive generally about five days before they are due, so I can't pay them all at once, even if I could withdraw all the cash I'd need to do that at once and if I felt safe walking on the street with that much cash in my pocket.

There are other time-wasting issues involved: there are exactly two ATM machines within walking distance of my house (out of maybe 200) that will allow me to withdraw up to 1000 reis. I need to use these machines so I can minimize the blow that Bank of America assesses for each foreign transaction- $5.00. I've learned that when I finally get to these machines, sometimes waiting 10 or 15 minutes to use one, that I'm not done with the transaction until the cash is in my hand. Sometimes the network is down, or the machine is out of money, or the stupid thing can't count the money properly and the transaction is denied. This is the most frustrating one for me, because you think the cash is on its way out, and then you just hear the whirring sound of it trying to count the cash, over and over and over again, until finally it gives up and tells you to go away.

I'm going off on a tangent now, but why the hell does it take so long for the average Brazilian to use a bank machine? Sometimes they are paying bills, which takes forever, and is something I'm dying to be able to do once I can finally open a bank account here. But they get to the machine, which runs them through several more layers of security than the typical U.S. ATM, and then check their balance, which they print out, and observe, and then go through the whole process again to make a withdrawl. Or I don't know what else. All I know is that I'm in and out of there in about a minute and a half once I finally get my hands on a working machine. And from what I've seen of standing in lines at banks, ATMs have revolutionized banking in Brazil in a way it never could have in the developed world. I've spent upwards of an hour waiting to pay a bill in the bank.

Today was worse than most days, because I had to drive half way across the city to pay two bills- one for the the educational psychologist, who we won't be seeing any more, and the other for my office. The way they set it up is that I have to go to pick up three payment vouchers every three months for the office, and they want to see that I'm paying all the bills. Annoying, but at least they let me have the place without passing their normal credit procedure.

It used to be that I payed very little in bills, and that the dollar was strong, and I didn't have to work very much as a result. But now I have an expensive health plan, I pay an absurd amount of money for electricity and water, ludicrous amounts for internet access and our cell phones, gas is over $5.00 a gallon and we've got a kid in a relatively expensive private school. And the value of the dollar has dropped to less than half what it was the first time I was here.

So what does this all mean? I'd better get back to work to pay those bills that I've wasted all day paying.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What A Mess

It just doesn't seem to stop.

On the day that we are down to our last two houseguests, they too get mugged on the street- in broad daylight on a busy street.

We don't really know which street, they couldn't describe it real well, but they lost two cameras and a couple credit cards. They yanked the ladies' bag so hard it left her with a friction wound on her shoulder.

That sucked.

And then just about an hour ago, I added up all my bills and compared them against the money I have in the bank- it's not going to cover it. And that's with no cash in our pockets all month.

And Lucas starts school on Wednesday.

And I'm trying to get back to normal.

At least we had a nice birthday party for Evani yesterday.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Last Day of Carnaval, and the Day Before

Things have gone to shit.

It's midnight on the last day of Carnaval, and here are the 'highlights':

  • Last night one of our guests got his nose shattered in a random act of violence and is in the hospital
  • Another guest was dropped and got a foot on his neck in an attempted robbery
  • My stepson and his aunt were vomited on by a passing idiot
  • It's Super Tuesday
  • I miss Lucas, and he misses us
We had a guest arrive from Peru yesterday, which was not a good day for me anyways- Evani and I were not happy with one another. Our guest was all gung ho- first trip to Brazil and with big plans for it. He crashed for a couple hours and went out into the craziness by himself; with only two days left to Carnaval he was determined to make the most of it. Word had it that he came back to the house with three women on his arm. He took a shower and pledged to go back out later, which he did, when everybody else was already out so once again he was by himself.

The bulk of the rest of our guests came back to the house at about 1 AM all worked up because a couple of them had just been attacked. Apparently someone asked him for a cigarette, he refused and the next thing he knows he's on the ground- one guy pulled his feet out from under him and another stepped on his neck. A couple others started going through his pockets. Our psychotic looking guest also had his pockets picked, or at least someone tried. Apparently a bunch of Brazilian onlookers ran to their rescue, scaring off the attackers and hustling them away from the scene. Bravo! Nothing was stolen apparently.

As we are in the middle of this conversation, the phone rings and it's a medical post reporting that our Peruvian friend has been attacked as well and an ambulance has been called for him. Evani wouldn't let me join her to walk down to meet him and went with her sister and Mario, her cousin. I got a call shortly thereafter to come meet them. When I got there, by car, he looked bad. His nose was completely swollen and bent and he had blood all over his clothes. He was also crying. I actually had a fairly good idea what he was going through, since I had also been in an accident in a foreign country and had to spend time in the hospital. Of course, that wasn't my first day of the trip and it wasn't a completely random attack. Then again, he didn't have two cops standing over him in the emergency room telling him he had been breaking the law at the time of the accident.

The attack had come out of the blue- he didn't even see the punch coming. And it was one punch, that shattered his nose, deviated his septum, broke part of his cheek, and also ripped up the inside of his mouth so he needed stitches. He's lucky he didn't lose any teeth. The 'punch' was so violent that we are wondering if it was a punch at all, or at least an unassisted one. He's not even sure who attacked him, although he thinks it was a Filho de Gandhi, who are supposed to be a peaceful bunch- go figure.

What's so disturbing to me is how suddenly his life has been altered- beyond the pain and the cost and the ruined travel plans, his nose may never be the same, his face may be scarred forever because of one moment of absolutely needless stupidity. It makes everything seem very fragile. And although this feels like the worst bit of Carnaval violence I have experienced, I have to remind myself that Evani's cousin got stabbed in an equally random incident during Carnaval, being in the wrong place during a fight.

Other events as well, like the guy who's probably been drunk for days that threw up on Ruan and his aunt as he was passing by; the fact that the most bizarre presidential primary in my lifetime is unfolding in the US, and I'm watching it from afar, and Lucas has been gone for days and I really wish he was back.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

It's the Sunday evening of Carnaval, and I can hear various large mobile sound systems with the best of Salvadoran music off in the distance. It's also superbowl Sunday- something I wouldn't be terribly interested in but the Patriots are trying for a perfect season. Actually, the tense has changed to 'tried' and they didn't pull it off. Oh well.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Caranaval begins

The first night of Carnaval is past, with various events in its wake. I took Lucas out to the street to see the action, which he enjoyed, even though he was tired. He likes it when they yell "Sai do chão!" (leave the ground, or jump up and down) which we do and that always gets a big smile. We saw a couple trios go by, then made our way back towards the house, where we saw a couple more go by. Tribahia, A Mulherada, and some little trio with an Axé group. I realized how long I've actually lived here because I kept running into people I know, including a friend of Evani's who is part of Mulherada.

We hadn't had rain for a month, but of course, it always rains for Carnaval and it picked today to rain like hell. It rained so hard that I had to wake up two of our guests who were sleeping in the living room, at 5 AM, because water was blowing in the windows. At least they were mellow about it...

The other event of the day was that Ruan showed up with a hamster this morning. I gave him some cash to buy a can of this spray snow goop that is very popular during Carnaval and he came home with a new pet. Without asking. His mother is not very happy about it. I'm fine with it, I figured it could be a good thing for him to learn some responsibility and plus he's wanted a pet for a long time. Evani has made it clear that we will not raise cats or dogs in the house, so I guess a hamster is as good as it's going to get. One terrible irony- they stuck the poor little thing in a box that originally contained rat poison- only in Brazil!