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.