Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Stickup, Mostly

It was a stickup but the guy didn't get anything.

The victim was my stepson, Ruan, and it didn't happen in a dark alley late at night. It happened Friday afternoon, and just after noon, as he was on his way to school. It was in broad daylight in a very well traveled area, just off one of the busiest streets here in the city. Just a few blocks from our house.

Pivete is a very colorful Portuguese word that means 'child thief' and there are a lot of them here in Salvador. Two of them approached Ruan, calling him by some made-up name apparently to make it look like they knew him, and one of them backed him up against a wall. He grabbed Ruan's arm, and said "Passa o celular, na boa." This means "Give me your cell phone, nice and easy." The other guy was watching the street, covering for his 'friend.'

Ruan, terrified, told him honestly that he didn't have a cell phone and the guy asked him what the hell was in his pocket and even stuck his hand in to find out. He had some cologne in there - Ruan is into cologne. Much more so than myself, much to my wife's chagrin.

So they let him go, and he went, quaking. Next thing he knows someone, an adult, is calling him back. The two kids have been collared by the cops, who had found a cell phone on the one who tried to rob Ruan. They wanted to know if it was his, which he said it wasn't. They wanted to know what happened and he told them. The Pivete got smacked hard twice on the neck and a cop car pulled up ('cruiser' doesn't quite fit the cars they drive here). They were carted off and that was the end of that.

Ruan, to his credit, didn't come home- he stayed on task and went to school and we only heard about what happened when he got home. We actually want him to have a phone, and it's only because of circumstances that he doesn't. Or didn't, because if he'd had one, he wouldn't anymore. He told us he doesn't want to go to school by himself anymore and we told him that what happened was extremely unusual, to be ripped off like that under those circumstances. Clearly the kids didn't know what they were doing, and they did get caught. We told him to stick close to other people if he's nervous, do the herd thing.

I've said it before on this blog that I consider it a minor miracle that the same thing hasn't happened to me yet here in Salvador. The only place I ever got mugged was in Greenfield, Massachusetts with a friend of mine when we weren't much older than Ruan, I think we were fifteen. That also happened quite early- at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, but it was December which meant it was already dark. It was also in a very public spot, on the main street in Greenfield, but a little artificial grove of Christmas trees had been set up on the sidewalk and the thieves took advantage of it for cover. When they convinced us that they were actually robbing us I gave them my week's pay, which at the time was twelve dollars. Besides that, nothing worse happened other than getting threatened with a studded leather bracelet which the smaller and more psycho of the dudes wrapped around his fist. They chased off my friend and tried to lead me down an alley but I took off and they couldn't catch me. More than twenty years later it still gets my adrenaline going to remember it.

Those guys also got caught eventually, there was an eyewitness and eventually a trial although I didn't testify.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Another Cute Kid Post

Lucas woke me up this morning with Hop On Pop in hand, he wanted to read. Only problem was it was 5:30 in the morning.

I informed him that Hop On Pop was not going to happen, but I could put on a movie for him, which he thought was a good idea. The only problem, as usual, was what movie. I tried the Avatar first, as that was what was in the dvd player and didn't require my getting out of bed. That worked for a little while, until Lucas lost interest and decided to read Hop On Pop to himself on the floor. That lasted all of two minutes, and he was back at my side with book in hand wanting me to read it to him again.

I successfully distracted him with the prospect of a different movie, and this time got out of bed to find one suitable for him. This can take a while. He expressed interest in Madagascar, but for some reason the CD case wasn't suitable- he told me "Like this," putting his fists together, whatever that means. It was a different copy of the film than his original one, having received a second one on his birthday. I tried to convince him that the movie was the same but he was not convinced. Finally I opened the case, and there was no disc inside so the point was suddenly moot.

At last we settled on Elmo, an old, recently neglected favorite. He watched and I slept. I was awoken once again when the disc was finished, and I started it again. He took the opportunity to show me all his new t-shirts, which he had laid out carefully on the floor in a row. I told him that was nice and retrieved a basket of toys from the other room for him so he would have something else to play with.

Eventually he got back into the bed and went back to sleep. When I woke up, Evani was pulling clothes out of drawers. His clothes. Our drawers. As we had been sleeping, he had transferred the entire contents of his dresser from his room to our room.

Evani was not pleased. I was having a hard time concealing my amusement. After all, he had amused himself for about two hours completely by himself and hadn't relied solely on the television, which makes me happy. Plus I love it when he does silly stuff, being a fan of silly stuff in general.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sunday is Graffiti Day, Part IV

Back to the streets!

Well, I finally got back out again with my paints, and I undertook what was by far my most challenging painting to date, with decidedly mixed results. I spent over two hours wrangling with this thing, trying to get it right, and it is not right. I finally wrapped it up in disgust; hungry, discouraged, and with a mild headache. This is right on a very busy road, and it looked much better to me when I drove by it yesterday evening. Then it looked iffy to me again when I took the picture this afternoon, and I guess I've got my work cut out for me if I want to take my skills to the next level.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Have you ever had the urge to turn on the TV only to realize that there is nothing on but really annoying prime-time soap operas in a semi-foreign language? And then realized that half the reason you want the TV on in the first place is to drown out the constant buzz of conversation outside the window that makes you feel like you're in a movie theater before the film starts? And been so wiped out due to the consequences of something bad you ate the previous evening that you don't even feel like reading a book? Or surfing the internet? Or working once again on a Saturday night at home by yourself, the family having fled for greener pastures? Or even looking at the new artwork you have been working on and getting all excited about?

That, friends, (in case you haven't guessed) is the evening I'm having. Actually, a fair portion of my week has been like that, which is why I haven't been writing posts. But I'm going to stop complaining, and I'm going to scour the DVD collection for something I'm not entirely sick of and try the veg-out option again. And sleep. And a fresh start tomorrow.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Frequent Conversation

"Lucas, what color is this?"


"What do you mean, no? You know what color this is."


"Lucas, 'no' is not a color. It's bluuuuue.


"Yes, it is! And what color is this?" I point at something yellow.


For some reason, Lucas will not say anything is yellow. He sometimes says things are blue or red, and green is his favorite. But not yellow. He's not having it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sticker Expo 08 Curitiba

Yess! I've been checking the flickr site of EXS 08 for some time looking for any photos of my stickers in their show, and I just found one! Here it is. I was starting to worry that they'd just tossed my poor hand-drawn lovelies, but as it turns out they even gave me a nice little name tag. This is only the third art show I've been in including my BFA show in 92, and the other one I put on myself. I'm not counting the photos and paintings I hung in Brattleboro area restaurants back in the day. I'm also not counting the streets of Salvador, or the internet, which have provided me with much wider exposure than any of the little shows I've done. Not that it's come to anything. Yet. Except this expo in Curitiba.

I must say they did a pretty nice job with the show, much more professional than I expected initially. You can see the rest of the pictures here.

Yesterday I went and priced out silk screening equipment, and made the very pleasant discovery that I could get started with a basic setup for very cheap. So I may be mass producing stickers, and doing new t-shirts, soon. Perhaps very soon...

Lucas' Capoeira Event

Earlier this week Lucas received a special invitation. His Capoeira group at school, Kilombolas, was celebrating its 35th birthday and Lucas was invited to participate. His instructor told us that not all the kids in his class were invited, only the more advanced ones, if you can be an advanced student of Capoeira at three years old.

I knew more or less where the event was happening, but what I didn't realize was that I knew exactly where the event was happening. There had been a graffiti event in the bairro back in October and the cultural center where the party was held was in the same spot. I had spent a very enjoyable hour or so running around the same streets with a very motivated organizer who wanted me to paint every wall in the neighborhood with the dribbles I had left in a couple cans. It was really cool to go back today, because I got to see and take pictures of some paintings that I hadn't even seen in daylight. Plus I got to show them off to Evani and Lucas.

The event, which was to start at three, was typically poorly organized and late getting started. When they finally did get started, we had to sit through the usual thanking of all the mestres and advanced students present, and a couple mestres who took the mike to say a few things. There are very few things you can say about all mestres of Capoeira, but it's safe to say that they are all like to talk. So that took a while.

What made the speeches a bit different was the guy MC'ing the event told everyone, twice, right off the bat, that there was to be no stealing of cameras or sneakers or cell phones because there were police in attendance and this wasn't that kind of event. He also made a point that this was not a batizado, or baptism, but a birthday party. Batizados are initiation events in Capoeira Regional and are generally accompanied with a troca de corda, the Capoeira version of moving up a belt. Neither of these things exist in Capoeira Angola.

To open the event there was a little bit of Maculelé, which is another very cool Afro-Brazilian stick fight/dance. People who are skilled at it use machetes, everyone else uses pieces of wood. This was a bunch of kids, and nobody was using machetes.

Next up was Lucas and his crew. Their presentation lasted all of two minutes, and it was as I had expected: very cute, the kids in varying degrees of focus. They sang the usual songs that get sung when kids are in the roda, including the old favorite Nhem Nhem Nhem, where they sing:

Cala boca, menino,
Nhem nhem nhem,

Menino chorão,

Nhem nhem nhem

This translates as "Shut your mouth, kid, you crybaby," with the taunting refrain every other line. There are a bunch of other songs for kids but like I said, this was only a two minute presentation. Now I'm going to do the Proud Papai thing and post the video of the entire thing so you can say "aaawww... how cute" in the privacy of your own home.

Pretty much as soon as they finished, we left. We'd been there for an hour and a half already. The room was also quite stuffy. I don't really understand the Brazilian aversion to windows, but they build a lot of stuff that has almost no ventilation. This place was actually better than most, with a bunch of little openings high up on the walls. Thank goodness it was cool and cloudy- if it had been sunny and summertime we would have been roasted in there.

So to wrap this up I'm going to post a couple photos of my aging street art, now that I have daylight versions of them. On the way out I discovered that one of them had been painted over. Blast!!

Friday, May 16, 2008


I had a dream last night. There were mice running around the room, despite the room having lots of people in it. It was our house, but it wasn't our house. There was an open door leading to the basement, and we don't have a basement. I looked and realized they were running around in the open because they were being chased out of the basement by rats that were attacking them. I looked into the basement, and there were all these rats, attacking one another and the mice. Then I looked back in the room and there were all these dead bloody rats in the corners, and rats chasing mice and it was so unpleasant that I woke myself up; I rarely remember dreams like this unless I wake up in the middle of them.

I'd hate to have someone tell me what this means. Actually, I probably had the dream because I did see two mice chasing each other around in my office (at the house) the other day. I really should set out some traps. Not that I like killing mice much- I don't like to kill anything if I can avoid it, with the notable exceptions being mosquitoes and cockroaches. Biting flies also used to get swatted with vigor but we don't have those here in Brazil. But rodents are more than just a nuisance, there are some nasty rodent-borne diseases here.

We don't have rats in the house, but one did fall off our neighbor's roof the first year we lived here. He used to have this nasty section of roof where the tenants threw trash and apparently the rats liked it. It fell off his roof onto our patio- maybe it touched the electric fence we have. I'm not going to tell you the rest of this story because it ends badly. He has since reformed that part of the house and trash doesn't accumulate there anymore- I think.

The other thing that happened yesterday that might have triggered the dream has to do with the owls we have in the neighborhood- I think someone actually raises them. I hear them screeching all the time and Evani hates it, she's very superstitious about owls and I've discovered that lots of Bahians are. One time I was drinking beer with a friend of mine and we heard an owl screech overhead- he said Bota fogo no cu dela, Maria three times. This means Put fire up her butt, Maria. Kind of an obscure comment, but the sentiment is clear.

Personally I like owls and have nothing against them. I saw one of our neighborhood owls once, and it was beautiful and snowy white. Plus they eat rodents and I'm not a big fan of rodents even if I don't like to kill them myself. So anyhow last night I heard the owl screech, and then I heard it screech again, much closer, and simultaneously heard another screech which sounded exactly like a rodent that has just been seized in the talons of an owl. This was coming from our neighbor's house, which if I'm correct counters my theory that his rats are gone. At least the furry ones- he's got plenty of human rats living there.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ruan's Birthday

Saturday was Ruan's birthday, and to celebrate we left the city for a couple days. Here's what I wrote about our trip on Saturday night at the hotel:

Today is Ruan's eleventh birthday. I am in the beach town of Imbassai with him and Lucas and their cousin Gel, who was the closest thing to a brother that Ruan had before Lucas was born.

This was Evani's idea, but she's not here. She suggested coming out here, about an hour north of the city on the 'Linha Verde,' but then decided she didn't want to join us. I asked her what she wanted for Mother's day, and she said 'paz' so I guess that says it all.

So here I am with Lucas snoring at my side. This is the first time I've done an overnight trip with the kids without Evani. It started very badly; I gave Ruan a new game for his Game Boy before we left and it ended up with Lucas crying uncontrollably, wanting to play the game, and Ruan all pissed off because he couldn't play his new game. I told Ruan I needed his help if we were going to do this trip, and apparently that worked- he mellowed out and gave Lucas the game to play, and Lucas in turn stopped crying. It helped that I gave Ruan my new cell phone to check out, which he hadn't seen yet, so they both had an electronic distraction for a while.
I think it's a good thing I didn't write more. If I'd had lots of time to hang out on the computer, I wouldn't have been doing other things, like hanging out with the kids. We swam in the pool, went to the beach and played in the sand, went to a restaurant and had pizza and cake. During dinner, I snuck off and bought some chocolate cake and candles at the bakery conveniently located next to the restaurant we were eating at. I gave them to the waiter and asked him to bring it out after we were done eating. He said no problem.

When we finished eating, I tried mightily to herd Lucas back into his seat for the cake and he almost blew the surprise when Gel told him we were going to sing 'Parabens' (Congatulations, or 'Happy Birthday' Brazilian style). Lucas did go back to his chair, but of course he went saying "Parabens de Ruan!" several times, luckily Ruan didn't catch on. Then the fool of a waiter brought out the cake with the candles unlit. We were all singing parabens already, but had to stop because the fool of a waiter couldn't get the candles lit. I had to light them myself, and we started over again. At least the cake was tasty.

We experienced several miracles on our trip, the first being that it didn't rain. It had rained... the expression in the States is 'cats and dogs' but I don't think that's adequate for the rain we had here. I'd say it rained 'horses and cows' on Thursday night and then was cloudy all day Friday, and the forecast I saw online was for nothing but clouds, rain, and thunderstorms over the weekend. Nonetheless, Ruan wanted to go, and while we didn't get much in the way of sun, at least it didn't rain on us.

Another miracle we had was when we all worked on a sand castle at the beach and Lucas didn't destroy it, but chose instead to participate in the construction. As we were preparing to leave, he reverted to form and decimated the thing.

I know there was a third miracle, but it must have been a minor one because I don't remember it.

On Sunday we went to Praia do Forte, another trendy resort-ish town on the coast which is best know for its sea turtle project. We went and saw the turtles, had lunch and ice cream, and took a ride in a funky pedal taxi.

Ruan had a great time. He got two new games for his play station, and one for his game boy, so he's happy as a clam. Overall I'd say we all had a great time. And Evani got her time off, spending nearly two days with her friends in Paripe.

In the graffiti department, another Sunday, another near-bust in production. I painted a rather ugly bichinho on a power pole on our way out of Imbassai. I'm starting to appreciate the difference between different types of paint and caps (nozzles) and I'm not entirely thrilled with the ones I've got right now. Hopefully next Sunday I can do a real painting.

Friday, May 9, 2008


Tonight I went and played in the roda of our Capoeira group. I brought Lucas with me, because he's been bugging me since Monday about how he wanted to go. Our group is very kid-friendly, we have a bunch of local kids who train and participate in the roda with us and provide a lot of energy in general, so I like to bring Lucas along. Everyone loves him there too, which is a bonus.

Because Lucas was with me, and I haven't been training much, my expectations were pretty low for the roda. I didn't even know if I'd get to play, or even if I should. I mostly just wanted to be there and see everyone and sing the songs. Going into the second hour of the roda, a friend of mine offered to distract Lucas for me so I could play. She told me to go directly to the pé do berimbau (literally 'foot of the berimbau') which is where the next in line to play sits. I did, and next thing I know I'm in the roda.

When I first started training Capoeira, the idea of playing in the roda was just about the scariest and most personally challenging thing I could have imagined myself ending up doing. You are in the middle of a circle of people, all singing and watching you play your game with one other person. Whatever you do, for good or bad, is there for everyone to see. I still find it challenging.

So I'm in the roda with a woman from our group who I have never played against before. She's a few years older than me- I being on the shy side of forty and she being a few years on the other side. She used to train with GCAP, as did several members of our group, and all three of our mestres.

GCAP is legendary in Capoeira Angola. Without wanting to get into it too much, it was essentially the group that saved Capoeira Angola when it was being snuffed out by Capoeira Regional. It is known as having been one of the most demanding and disciplined groups with one of the strictest mestres the art has ever known. Still is. It was responsible for the formation of many other groups started by ex-students- something one of my mestres refers to as the 'GCAP diaspora.'

The woman I was about to play had left Capoeira years before, and then come back to train with our group. I'd seen her play, and knew she still used a lot of the old GCAP moves. GCAP plays an aggressive game. I don't. I'm a mellow guy, most of the time, and most of my games in the roda are mellow too. Plus I was low energy- the adjectives 'heavy' and 'stiff' come to mind.

So we start to play- very slow and polite, which is how I always start a game. Very early on she starts to play more aggressively with me, kicking me when I'm open and picking up the pace. She got me with some move that left me on the floor, not much fun in front of all those people. It was not the game I had been hoping to play. One of my mestres made a comment that I didn't follow exactly, but the gist was that I was getting thumped and better do something about it.

At this point, I had to make a choice. I could have let her play this game against me, and continued to try to counter with a non-aggressive, mellow game. I've done this in the past with mixed results. If I'm really on top of my game, I can pull it off, but usually I just end up gettting kicked a lot and annoyed. The alternative is to ramp it up and play the game she is already playing.

I decided to ramp it up.

Let me say for those who aren't familiar with Angola that when I say 'kick' I don't mean kick in a kickboxing sense. Angola is much more about showing kicks, or planting a kick lightly, to show that you 'got' the other person. I've taken real kicks before, by accident and on purpose, and they generally mean the game is over.

So I will my soggy, leaden limbs to move faster and start getting serious. I'm not a brilliant capoeirista by any means, but I have a few moves. I even have some kinda 'dirty' moves, but I decided not to pull any of them out tonight. I whiz a couple kicks by her face and pull her foot out from under her and the game is on. She reacts by setting her mouth and playing harder. It became clear that she was trying hard to get me.

It wasn't a pretty game. I was stiff and out of practice. The crowning moment for me was a well-placed cabeçada (head butt) that put her gently on the floor- payback for earlier in the game. It went back and forth and I can't say if I really took the upper hand, I'm usually not real clear on what the game looks like to other people. At one point I was doing something or other and her foot hit me in the face. I didn't even see it coming. It didn't hit me hard, but I was already annoyed and this was even more annoying. She gave me a hug and figured it was the end of the game. I wanted to keep going and we were allowed to (the mestres, and whoever is playing the berimbau, decides when the game is over most of the time). We played a bit more and then we were done.

After a game like that, I never really know what people are thinking. I go and sit in the circle again, and sing and watch other people play, and I don't know if it was good or bad, if they think I did well or if I was an idiot. The worst is when you know you looked like an idiot. I hate asking people "So how was my game??" so generally I don't.

After the roda was over, someone I know from another Capoeira group asked if I would give her a ride, which I did. As we were walking to the car, she said that she enjoyed my game. I asked her why, because I thought it was pretty ugly. She said that she thought I'd been very gentlemanly in the way I had dealt with her- that she had pushed the game, been aggressive, and been asking for it. I had given it to her, but in a very nice way. She went on to say that she sees lots of women at her roda do this kind of thing, often with guys much more experienced than they, and the guys really let them have it. She doesn't approve of this kind of thing.

So I guess I'm flattered. I'm also wondering if anyone else had the same response to the game. I'm also really wanting to get my game back together so I don't feel like such a lunk in the roda. Next week I could come up against some young guy who trains every day and decides to go after me. That's also happened before.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

No, Pat, No!

Lucas said to me yesterday: "No, Pat, No! Don't sit on the cat!"

This made me extremely happy.

Let me explain why.

Pat is a big, fluffy, Fozzie Bear type character in Dr. Zeuss' book Hop On Pop. He goes around sitting on things, like a hat, a bat, and of course, a cat. He also tries to sit on a cactus.

When he sits on the cat, the text reads 'Pat sat on cat.'

When he goes to sit on the cactus, the text reads 'No, Pat, No! Don't sit on that!'

So why are you so happy, you are asking. Well, Lucas said this in English. And not only did he put two different phrases together in a logical way, but he also put the article in there in the right place with no prompting from his English-speaking dad!

So the kid is finally getting it. And he's really learning, not just parroting. My words aren't just bouncing off him. I mean, I knew they weren't all bouncing off him, but now I know I'll be hearing more than just 'Look!' and 'Nother one' and 'All gone.' Oh yeah, and 'Come on man!'

Not that those aren't good words too.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Improvising in Portuguese

On Tuesdays Lucas has Capoeira at school, so we dress him up in his white stretchy pants and his little tank top all emblazoned with the logo of the group that teaches there. It's a Regional group, which is not the style I train (Angola), so I'll forgive him the lack of sleeves and shoes. He's only three and hopefully some day he'll want to train Angola instead of, or as well as, Regional.

Sometimes when we dress him up we start singing Capoeira songs and I have even been known to play a little bit of Capoeira with him before we head out of the house. We did that today, and I started singing Parana ê, which is quite possibly the most famous Capoeira song of them all.

Once we left the house, Lucas started singing Parana ê again, and I joined in, improvising lyrics in Portuguese.

A loose translation:

Me: Oh Lucas is a cutie guy, Parana, he likes to play Capoeira, Parana.

Lucas: Ruan!

Me: What?

Lucas: Sing about Ruan!

Me: Oh Ruan is big and tall, Parana, he doesn't play Capoeira, Parana.

Lucas: Me! Sing about how I'm little!

Me: Oh Lucas is teeny tiny, Parana, but he still goes in the Roda, Parana.

He likes to suck his thumb, Parana, we can't get him to stop, Parana.

Of course he was sucking his thumb as I sang that. There were two women walking in front of us and they were looking back at us and laughing. Lucas gets lots of attention when he goes to school in his Capoeira clothes. Actually, he gets a lot of attention anyways- I didn't realize quite how much until we started meeting some people who live and work in the Largo- and they would tell us (mostly Evani, actually) how they'd always see me walking around with him and how wonderful Lucas' hair is.

I tend to not notice people notice me- one of the things I started doing early on when I moved here was to screen out almost everyone around me. I knew they were all looking at me, and rather than look back at all of them it was easier to just shut them all out. I know what it is to be in a minority- not an oppressed minority, but a minority nonetheless. It's an experience everyone should have.

So back to Capoeira. Improvising lyrics in Capoeira is an art- an art I haven't mastered very well, and something I'm really only capable of doing when I'm not at a roda, and especially not when I'm playing a berimbau. It's generally all I can do to remember the words I already know to the songs, let alone make up new ones. That was fine in New York, where my mestre João Grande really didn't want us to improvise at all. Here, it's a different story. You can improvise all you want.

I made it back to Capoeira yesterday, the first time since the last time I wrote a post about it. Which was (shudder) over a month ago. Sigh. I'm gonna give it up for real one of these days, but not quite yet.

I'm having a lull in my work schedule for the first time in months, which is terrifying since I'm a freelancer. I'm trying to take advantage of the dry spell and do some other things, like get back to Capoeira. Also hang out with the family a bit more, like we did on Sunday when we took a long overdue trip to the beach. I should really be trying to make artwork, and crank out stickers and drawings and such, but getting all stressed out over my lack of paying work isn't helping to motivate me. I did go and buy some fresh cans of spray paint for the first time in a couple months, and that was invigorating. If a lack of billable hours isn't artistically inspiring, hanging out with graffiteiros tends to be a bit more so. I hope to do so again soon. But there will be no 'Sunday is Graffiti Day' this week, unless I choose to call it 'Sunday is Paint My Name Sloppily by the Side of the Road With Everybody Waiting In The Car Day.' I think I'll just skip it.