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.


Pedra said...

Congrats on the sales and thanks for the yummy food! It was cool to meet some other gringos too :)

AkuTyger said...

You should see if you can check out the Maua fair here in Jardim dos Namorados. It's a summer event - usually starts around November until about March, running twice a month. I usually go when it's on and talk to various vendors. It's fun and social and has security and sometimes forro. Also there is that big compass praza in the middle that all the kids ride bikes on. That's fun for everyone.

markuza said...

Pedra- glad you enjoyed yourself! I had a great time myself.

Akutyger- thanks a ton for the tip- I'll have to see what I can find out about it. That's not the same park that's in Costa Azul, the one with the churrascaria in the middle of it, is it?