Sunday, March 30, 2008

Superman Turns Three


It's after midnight, and another birthday has come and gone. This one was a boomer for the birthday boy, and the birthday boy was my son, my very own Lucas Gabriel.

I was going to save this for later in the post but when we sang 'Happy Birthday' Bahian style to Lucas, fifty or so voices strong, that I have never witnessed such complete happiness and utter joy as I witnessed on the face of my little boy at that moment. I took a bunch of pictures and none of them really captured it- I shot a dark little movie and it remains to be seen if it captured the happiest kid I have ever seen in my life.

Needless to say, the party went well. As with all good parties, there was an hour or so when we wondered if anybody was going to show up, and then more people showed up than we possibly expected. We even had six estrangeiros (foreigners) including myself, and no party is complete without a couple of those.

I love throwing parties, I have ever since I was in high school. Even though the first one or two were kinda uptight, I figured it out pretty quick and have thrown some humdingers over the last two decades. Little did I know that I would marry someone who loves throwing parties even more than myself.

Here in Brazil (and I have to admit the possibility that this occurs in other parts of the world) they love to throw themed birthday parties. This year's theme: Superman. And when I say Superman, I mean SUPERMAN. Evani bought Superman party hats and napkins, and a styrofoam Superman to mount lollipops on. She made a Superman cake with an edible ink, rice paper inkjet photo of Superman shooting across the top of it; she bought him a Superman outfit with a little cape and a foam 'S' on the chest. Grammy brought him a Superman beach towel, Superman underwear, three Superman DVD's, Superman pajamas and and additional Superman t-shirt. She also made him a Superman cape to replace the cloth diaper we usually tie around his neck for the Superman cape effect. For my part, I bought fabric paint to paint the 'S' on the cape (althought Grammy asked me not to) and a bunch of Superman party invites.

Everyone had a great time. The cake was a big success, as were all the candies and salty thingies and fried thingies. We invited a number of people from our neigborhood who have kids, and they all showed up- even my sweet little old neighbor who has the house of Umbanda on one side of us. A number of kids who spend a lot of time yelling obscenities in front of our house came and asked for some cake, and handed out about eight plates with salties and even a couple candied apples.

We found out later that a couple of these plates were less than appreciated. Apparently at least one of the candied apples was tossed and declared 'rotten.' The sweets were determined to be 'second class.' I wish I could say I was surprised by this bullshit, but I wasn't. I enjoyed sharing some cake with these folks and must confess I had hoped to make some points in the Good Neighbor department. But we've known for a long time that we are not entirely popular with some of our neighbors, and now we have a much better idea of who a couple of them are. Oh well- if this is how they view our world through their jealous colored glasses then fuck em.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Arrival of The Grammy

My Mom arrived for her fourth visit to Bahia today. For the first time, they lost her luggage, which caused some stress until all of a sudden a guy knocked on the door with the bags in tow- what a relief. Particularly because the bags were full of presents.

Mom brought lots of presents- my mother loves to give presents. She brought presents for me, presents for Ruan, presents for Evani, and, most of all, presents for Lucas.

It is now officially Lucas' third birthday, having started almost an hour ago. Evani, with the help of four people, worked literally all day preparing for it. That is to say- they all worked all day preparing for it. They have made hundreds of little chocolates and other sweets, and hundreds of little baked tasty goodies, and tomorrow morning they are going to fry up hundreds more little fried goodies that they prepped today. The table is completely laden, and I have suspended it in little dishes with water in them so the ants won't invade.

Brazilians take their parties seriously, and I suspect that here in Bahia they take them even more seriously. Mom remarked that she had some nice parties for us, but never put out the kind of effort Evani is expending for this one. No doubt about that- in the States, it was cake, ice cream, and presents. Where we went in for more presents, they go in for more food. And this is his third birthday- the big one is the first one!

It's great to see Mom, and it's even greater to see Mom see Lucas, who is her only grandchild. Lucas is old enough that he connects her with the voice on the phone, and he warmed up to her right away. I told her if he starts to drive her nuts to kick him out of her room and lock the door. It almost came to that tonight, as she was so exhausted from her 25 hour trip that she was almos asleep on her feet and I had to extricate him from her bed, where he was hiding in the sheets, howling merrily.

The other thing Mom did was break The Great Twizzlers Fast. In a big way. I now have four pounds of red licorice, and a pound of cherry bites. These will go fast despite my best efforts to conserve them- the problem with red licorice is that it's never better than when you gorge yourself on it, which doesn't lend itself to rationing. I'll get in a few good gorges before I try to ration them, even so I expect they'll be gone in two weeks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back to Capoeira

Today, for the first time in about two months (since before Carnaval I believe) I went back to Capoeira.

I started training Capoeira over ten years ago, but I've taken many long breaks- once because I went travelling in Asia, once because I got a shoulder injury, once because I was renovating a house, planning a wedding, and tending to a pregnant wife- all at the same time. By comparison, this break was relatively short, if it has indeed ended.

These last couple years I've been asking myself if I even want to continue training Capoeira. Many groups wouldn't accept a student that is as irregular in attendance as I am, but that's part of what I like about this group. The thing is, I don't know if I accept myself as a student of Capoeira if I can't get it together to train more than once a week. I was a much more dedicated student when I lived in New York, but then again I was single and childless at the time. Since we had to pay for each individual class, rather than monthly like most schools, the amount I trained was only limited by what I could afford.

Now, I live in the city that probably has the highest number of Capoeira Angola groups in the entire world, and ever since I got here I've gotten increasingly less and less serious about my training.

The funny thing about it is: even though I keep leaving, I keep going back.

Capoeira, and I think especially Capoeira Angola, is a very strange art form. I'll never forget the fateful day when my then-roommate came back from a class all excited about this martial arts class he'd just done- African by way of Brazil and everybody singing and dancing and playing instruments- and fighting. All at the same time. You're nuts, I told him. It took him a long time to convince me to give it a try, and wouldn't you know it- of the four of us that were training together at that time I am the last to be sticking it out. I've survived an entire group in Brattleboro, Vermont and several others that have come and gone over the years in Western Massachusetts.

The thing is, to really love Capoeira Angola, you have to love a whole bunch of different things. It's not enough to want to work out and train a martial art. You have to play instruments. You also have to sing songs. In Portuguese. And it's not a straight up martial art- you do lots of peculiar movements, some of which are acrobatic and some of which aren't- some of which are downright weird. Then you have to mix all of this up together- playing, dancing, fighting, and singing to be a capoeirista. There's not a lot of people who can hang with all of these. The ones that do tend to be fanatical, at least for a little while, after which a large percentage of them drop out. The ones who don't are the Truly Strange.

I'm half joking when I say that, of course, because I am one of those Truly Strange. I wouldn't describe myself as fanatical about Capoeira, although I have certainly been quite passionate about it at different times of my life- it was the primary catalyst for my big move from Bucolic Brattleboro to Bustling Brooklyn. I think my lack of fanaticism is why I've stuck with it as long as I have, but this same lack of fanaticism is what keeps me from getting truly good at it. I used to look at the folks who were always there, for every class, and I'd think: Don't these people have other lives? Don't they have families? I suspect the answers are either no to the first question, or yes, but they take second place to the second. A line to the great Capoeira anthem Parana Ê is "Tell my woman, Parana, Capoeira has overcome me, Parana." Well, I opted not to follow that path.

It's funny to see the Capoeira tourists come here, they are like little kids let loose in an amusement park; running from roda to roda to this class with that group and that class with this group. I never really did that, although part of me wishes I had. My intention coming here was to complement my Capoeira experience by learning something about Brazil, and in that I succeeded in spades. I've tried to yank some of these tourists out of the Capoeira Vortex- "Hey, there's a Candomblé going on on Wednesday, you should try to make it." This almost never produced results so I gave up. But then again, I don't see as many Capoeira tourists here as I used to.

So I started out with a very brief mention of the class I attended, my first in two months. What should I say about it? It was great to see everyone, and as I expected there was a lot of surprised reaction to my drastic haircut. I did not pass out from overexertion, although I suspect after a couple more years I won't be so lucky after spending two months sitting on my ass.

Here's hoping I'm back for good.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Egg Hunt- Bahia Style


Easter is a big deal here in Brazil, but they don't do Easter the way I grew up with Easter back home. No baskets, no painting of eggs, no Easter egg hunts. I asked my mom, who's coming down this weekend for her fourth visit to Brazil, to bring one of those cheapo egg dying sets with the tablets and the little wire egg holder so I can save it for next year. No reason to check my culture at the border...

What they do for Easter here are big, chocolate Easter eggs. These range in size from several times the size of a normal egg up to about ostrich size. The eggs, which come wrapped in colorful plastic with a flourish at the top, are hollow and have surprises inside. They are also surprisingly expensive. In February all the supermarkets and discount stores mount elaborate steel scaffolding to hang the eggs from- the effect being, shortly after they have been stocked, of walking through a grand egg trellis, where you can reach up and pluck off the egg of your choice. The purpose of the scaffolding, beyond the trellis-plucking effect, is most likely to keep the eggs out of the hands of those who might squash them. Like their chicken-produced brethren, they are pretty delicate.

So I, in my self-absorbed foolishness, forgot to get the eggs this year. Or rather, put it off until Easter Sunday itself, when I remembered. I had an oh shit moment, which was compounded by the fact that not only was it Sunday, when most stores are closed anyways, but it was Easter Sunday, which meant even the supermarkets and discount stores were almost certain to be closed as well. My Easter egg hunt this year was not for little painted eggs hiding in the sofa cushions, it was to be a city wide hunt for big, costly, plastic-wrapped chocolate eggs.

My first stop was my local mall, Center Lapa, which is within walking distance of my house. It's pretty humble by Brazilian mall standards- Brazilians love their malls almost as much as Americans do. Actually- I take that back. They like them at least as much as Americans do. When I was a kid I always used to consider our local malls to be haunts of the working class- back in Amherst most of the kids were too cool to hang out at the mall- that was where all the Hadley kids hung out. Hadley is a neighboring farming, or mostly ex-farming, community. However, it's dangerous to make generalizations based on the actions of teenagers from Amherst, who are notoriously snooty and seem to go out of their way to not do what is expected of them. When I was in high school, we were too cool to go to the mall, so we hung out on the church lawn. Now that's cool.

Here in Brazil, and probably in other parts of the world outside of Amherst, people get dressed up to go to the mall. Rather than being a place to get bargain prices, things tend to be somewhat to outrageously more expensive than what you can find in other places. I used to go to the mall with some frequency back when my money was worth something and I was suffering from more homesickness than I do now. Nothing better to kill your homesick blues than go see a movie, in English (with Portuguese subtitles, and no Twizzlers), and eat an Italian at the Subway.

So here I go into Center Lapa, fully expecting my first dead end. But- lo and behold- Lojas Americanas is open! Lojas Americanas is the Brazilian equivalent of K-Mart. They even use the same color scheme. Great place to get eggs. And hey- there are still hundreds of eggs hanging from the trellis-plucking-scaffolding!

And then I got closer. Some of the plastic wrappers looked pretty deformed. I reached up and began checking the eggs for structural integrity.

All

the

eggs

were

broken.

All of them. Hundreds of eggs- all in various states of manglement. I was one of about 20 last-minute shoppers squeezing wrappers in a vain search for an intact egg. I did find one- but it was diet chocolate and had to be hastily un-plucked from the trellis.
The only eggs I found worth buying were some normal chicken-sized ones in a kind of blister pack that promised a present inside- they were cheap so I got a bunch for Ruan and Lucas' cousins:
  • Gel
  • Gisele
  • Uga
  • Anderson
  • Florzinha
  • Bebé
And three more for the immediate family in case I couldn't find anything else.

Then I left.

Next- the car. And off the Extra. Extra is almost a Wal-Mart, but with more emphasis on the food. Wal-Mart actually owns another big box supermarket chain, Bompreço (Goodprice). I know you'll find all these links to different Brazilian retail giant's websites fascinating- I expect you'll spend hours browsing them- I know I do.

I used to really really love shopping at the Extra, I had become worn down by dingy supermarkets and noisy little stores that never had what I was looking for. The Extra was bright and shiny and had almost everything I could possibly ask for (except Twizzlers, but that's another blog post) I have plants and a vacuum cleaner and a printer and tools and inflatable mattresses and dozens of CFL's all purchased at the Extra. I bought the sound system and roof rack for my car there. Admittedly, despite their jingle- "Mais barato, mais barato- EXTRA!" (less expensive, less expensive... you get the idea) it is considerably more expensive than lots of other places. But I didn't care, it was worth it just for the consumerist ambience. These days I shop a lot less at the Extra, I'm trading it in for Mercado Rodriguez (what- no website?? I like them even better now) not only for the better prices, but also because they have lots of those little shopping carts that have a plastic car underneath which helps keep Lucas occupied and quiet (usually) while I'm shopping. There's things I can't buy there, like Xingu- the only dark beer worth drinking here as far as I'm concerned, but with the budgetary belt tightening I've been doing I don't even buy it much anymore. The Extra also has hard-to-find items like Celestial Seasonings tea and even Haagen Daz ice cream, but I refuse to pay $14 (yeah, US) for a pint of ice cream. Actually, if they carried chocolate chocolate chip, I probably would have bought one...

The Extra was my next best bet for most likely to be open and also to have the eggs. Luckily for me, I was right on both counts. They still had plenty of eggs, although not so many as Lojas Americanas. The difference being that these ones were intact. I got one for Lucas with a little skater dude toy in it (which he promptly swapped with his cousin for an airplane that was in one of the tiny eggs I got at my last stop), one for Evani that just says 'almonds' on it so I presume it has some almonds or almond candy inside, and one for Ruan that had a little iPod-copy radio in it- batteries not included. I did it! Another holiday saved. And the search wasn't even that bad.

The three eggs cost me 50 reis. The first time I visited here, that would have been $13.50 US, now it's almost $29. Fifty reis is now a lot of money for me. Happily the eggs were well received by all, so I guess it's worth it.

Isn't it?

Next year we'll do Easter American style.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lucas' Second Language



My stepson Ruan was watching Porco Rosso the other day. I had put it on in English for Lucas, as I usually do, but he'd fallen asleep. Ruan opted to watch the ending. From the kitchen where I was washing dishes I realized that Ruan was listening to it in the original Japanese. And then a couple minutes later in French.

It doesn't really matter what language he watches it in, he doesn't speak any of them, and almost no imported DVDs have a Portuguese soundtrack. A surprise exception was a boxed set of Muppet movies I bought- two of the three have a Portuguese option!

Lucas, on the other hand, does speak English. And understands a lot more of it. However, in a turn I never would have imagined ten years ago when I contemplated having kids in the vaguest way possible, my son is learning English as his second language. I find this strangely saddening, but it also inspired me to make the kind of determined effort to teach him English that led me to learn Portuguese at thirty - before I planned to move here.

Somebody, an American actually, heard me speaking to Lucas as a baby in Portuguese. She informed me that in order for him to become fluent in English, I needed to speak to him in English, and English only. Not only that- I needed to insist that he speak to me in English as well- otherwise, he'd learn to understand English but wouldn't be able to speak it. I believe my mother is actually proof of this theory- she spoke Swedish with her mother, and thus both understands and speaks Swedish. Her father spoke German to her and her sisters and they would answer him in English. My mom understands German pretty well, but apparently (from what I've been told) doesn't speak it terribly well.

Which brings me back to my little boy. I took the advice to heart. I took the first part of it so much to heart that now I automatically speak to all small children in English if I'm not paying attention. The second part has been more difficult- I haven't wanted to drive the poor little kid (and myself) crazy by pretending I don't understand him if he spoke to me in Portuguese. So I'm doing that half bit by bit and he's starting to catch on. I started with his requests (demands) for things like water:

"Papai, quero agua!"

"Lucas, can you say 'Papai, I want...'"

"Papai, I want... "

"What?"

"Agua!"

"How do you say that in English? 'Papai, I want...' "

"I want..."

"What?"

"Water!" ('watow' is actually what he says)

"Okay! You want water, you got it!"

I don't mind being Papai at all, although I do feel an odd longing ('saudades' is the brilliant Portuguese word I want to use) for the 'Dad' I didn't become. An old friend of mine told me, when we were having this same conversation, that he tried to get his first kid to call him 'Papa' but it didn't stick. He was Dad. Still is.

'Papai' is fine, 'Markie' is not. Most people here call me 'Markie' when they don't call me 'Marco' (like my father in law) or 'Max.' These names are fine, but some people want to call me 'Mike' (Mikey) or 'Michael' which drives me completely up the wall- I don't know why.

Brazilians have a really hard time ending a word with a consonant, so they add a vowel to the end of words like my name. They are generally not even aware that they do this, and trying to correct them is really hard because they don't hear it. Ruan's Brazilian born English teacher made this same mistake. "What's your name?" is a phrase most Brazilians have memorized, but it comes out "What's your namie?" I've tried correcting them, but they get so perplexed that I generally don't bother anymore. So now I, who has never been Markie to anyone but my mom, am now doomed to live with this childish diminutive for as long as I live here. Generally I introduce myself as 'Marcos' now.

There's a funny exception to the above rule, but I really should save it for another post.

I digress, as usual. I'm supposed to digress. I let myself digress. But then you, dear reader, lose interest and click away, so back to the topic at hand.

"Markie, Markie!"

"Papai!" I say.

"Papai!" says Lucas.

I had to stop responding to 'Markie' to get him not to call me that. I think he started doing it mostly because of Ruan, who calls me Markie, and Lucas naturally copies everything his big brother does.

Oh yeah, that was a digression too- I was writing about teaching him English.

Lucas has picked up lots of English words, and sometimes pops out with them when I least expect it. "Lucas you're making a big mess!" I say with some frequency, and then one day he points to a mess he made and says: "Papai, oh- mess!" or "Papai- cockroach!" This never fails to make me swell with pride and get all emotional.

He's also started to answer me in English unprompted, although pretty minimally.

"Lucas, are you hungry?"

"Yes."

or-

"Who did that?"

"You!"

"Me?"

"You!!"

More often the English words work their way into a Portuguese phrase:

"Papai, voçê vai pro office?"

"Yes, I'm going to the office."

But what I've really been waiting for him to do is to start putting together English phrases by himself. He finally did this about a month ago, and his first English phrase was:

"You broke!"

There hasn't been much more since then in the way of phrase building. In fact, I think Lucas' language skills are lagging a bit behind his peers, at least in Portuguese, which distresses me. When he tries to tell a story it's completely unintelligible. I am hoping that this is because of the multilingual bombardment he's receiving and that when he works it out he'll be a linguistic powerhouse. People have anecdotally supported this theory. I read somewhere, probably at nytimes.com, that learning a second language causes profound changes in the brain, especially at a young age. The article went on to say that even learning a language at 30 rewires things upstairs, and I can attest to that. My first language has gotten rattled and if I'm not paying attention I use Portuguese constructions or even slip a Portuguese word in where it doesn't belong.

As for his comprehension, there's no question that that is growing considerably as well. Yesterday I said to him:

"Lucas, do you know who's coming to visit next week?"

and he answered:

"Grammy."

Silence, a First

Last night I experienced a first for me here in Brazil, certainly here in Salvador.

When I went to bed

I heard

absolutely

nothing.

Well, not nothing- what I heard is that sound I hear in the absence of all other sounds that mask it- the tiny roar of what I presume is the blood coursing through my ear. Either that or some relic of my rock and roll days, back then there was a distinct ring which may have dropped off to this sound as I close in on the doddering old age of forty.

Brazil, as I have oft mentioned, is a noisy place. If you don't believe me, read this by the other expat American blogger in Salvador. Or better yet, come to Brazil! My first night, on my first visit here, lying in a bunk in a grubby hostel in Pelourinho (already having met my future wife, but that's another story), I was serenaded by a taxi with it's doors open blasting Bryan Adams turned up to 11. At 2 in the morning. Why, you may ask, did you stay there? Good question. I don't have a good answer. Actually, I do- it was the future wife. Why, you might also ask (I often do), do Brazilians love Bryan Adams so much? I can answer honestly that I have no fucking clue. It's not because they love the words, they don't understand any of the words. But I know a guy who will literally cry, with tears running down his cheeks, when a certain Bryan Adams song comes on that I would much prefer to never hear again in my life.

Anyhow, I was talking about the silence. It was glorious. I hadn't heard silence like that since the last time I was in the States, at both of my parent's houses. It made me think of all the things that were missing to allow it to exist- cars, neighbors, fans, yapping dogs, crying babies, wife and children. And music. It's not an experience I expect to be repeated anytime soon because of a confluence of events that created it- it was Good Friday, so lots of people were traveling. This nominally includes my family, who once again are in Paripe for the Easter weekend. I'll join them tomorrow. It was three in the morning, an hour I am trying not to be awake at anymore but nonetheless found myself. And, due to the rains we've been having, it was cool enough to have the fan off (Evani, who 'sleeps hotter' than I do, always wants the room a bit cooler than I do). So when I fell back in bed and stopped thinking about everything else there it was- utter peaceful quiet.

I enjoyed it for a while, and then I did the darnedest thing- I got up and turned on the fan. I couldn't get to sleep without it's comforting hum.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Trials, Tribulations, and Simple Pleasures

Today I spent half an hour raging by myself in my office. I was vaguely aware that my neighbor could probably hear me ranting and raving, but it was only afterwards that I remembered that the window was wide open and lots of my neighbors probably heard the Gringo losing it in profane English in that mysterious office of his.

Whatever. Brazilians lose it all the time, but they usually do it at one another, not at inanimate objects (or objects intended to be inanimate that suddenly, unnaturally, take flight). The problem was my 3pm phone call. I, like an outsourced tech support department, rely heavily on the VOIP phone services of Skype to keep my international calls at a reasonable portion of my budget. The thing was, I couldn't get the thing to work at 3pm this afternoon. This in spite of having two computers and three microphones to choose from. One of which I bought yesterday just for the purpose, because my 'boss' had been complaining that he couldn't hear me very well on the phone- he offered to pick up the tab.

I'll spare you the details, but finally I did get the internal mike on my laptop to cooperate and I made the call to an already grumpy client who I don't think appreciated the half hour technical delay. I put on my tallest Customer Service hat, poured the DJ Mike Presence (seven years of radio has to be good for something) into my voice and did my best. It was only later that I discovered why the stupid mike jack on my Mac wasn't working- it's not a mike jack. It's never worked. In the four months I've owned this computer I didn't realize that until today- talk about feeling stupid. It's a line-in jack and I'll need a preamp to get it to work with a standard microphone of which I have four now- that or get a USB headset. I gotta say- Apple loses a couple points with me with this line in jack- maybe it's great for professional recording but this is their freakin' econobox laptop and it would be nice if cheapo headsets would work without another external gizmo- I already shelled out for an external modem thank you very much.

I never did figure out why my trusty old Dell desktop didn't want to cooperate with the microphone as it has for so many years.

Those were the trials and tribulations. For the simple pleasures, I have been haunting my Google Analytics looking at the stats for this blog, and have been pleasantly surprised to discover that total strangers are having a look and apparently enjoying it. At least I assume they are total strangers. I know the wife of one of my best and oldest friends has been parusing and enjoying it, and one of my old college friends read a few pages, but what about this person in Miami that spent seven minutes reading four pages? I don't know anyone in Miami. Or the person in Rio that spent... uh... 4 minutes and 44 seconds reading six pages? We'll forget the bozos in Adelaide and Dallas and Burnsville, Minnesota who bounced in and bounced right back out again- forget you!

The real prize goes to the mysterious individual in Brighton, Massachusetts that spent fifty minutes and viewed nine pages of the blog! Thank you and hats off! I suppose this is something most bloggers go through- the satisfaction of knowing that other people are enjoying your efforts. That's probably why so many people are doing it, right?

I expect with time the stats will start to smooth out some, I won't be able to distinguish a single reader from here, another from there- who knows? I sure do enjoy looking at the map overlay in the analytics and saying Hey, did someone from India really check out my blog? Well, no, they left after zero seconds, but isn't it cool that they clicked through?

In case you're wondering and aren't familiar with Google Analytics, it only tells me what cities the hits are from, how long they stayed on the site, and how many pages they looked at. And whether they are return visitors. It doesn't give me street addresses or phone numbers. At least I don't think so.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sunday is Street Art Day, or Sit Around and Do Nothing Day

Not a hell of a lot of street art happened yesterday.

For one more week, I successfully beat back the urge to buy some fresh cans of spray paint, which ruled out the creation of a sizable piece. At 15 reis a can, that's about 9 bucks each and more than I can currently afford until I resolve some of my credit card debt.

However, I have a large number of imported Sharpie fine point markers with which to illustrate the city, so I opted to do that instead. Unfortunately, my timing was bad and it was already drizzling when I left the house. I did one quick drawing, and was working on a second when it started to rain for real. Really rain for real. I had to run for home, and I arrived dripping wet.

So much for the Sharpies. I had been summoned to Paripe for one more Sunday afternoon so I grabbed a couple of my almost spent Molotow cans and got in the car. En route, I stopped and painted a couple bichinhos on some bus stops. My bichinhos ('bicho' is a great Portuguese word that roughly means 'critter,' and 'bichinho' is the diminutive- you learned something) were originally intended to be fast and easy, my version of a tag (even though I have a tag too). They require very little paint, so I probably have enough paint for twenty or more of them. The only problem is, I'm getting kind of bored of them. It was never my intention to keep painting the same thing over and over, and although I can paint them in a variety of poses it's still the same basic formula.

Truth is, I'm a little frustrated with all of my graffiti. I suppose I'm doing fine, for a beginner, but I don't want to be a beginner- I want to be a professional. To become a professional is going to require a major commitment of time and money, neither of which I have in abundance at the moment. All spray paint is expensive here, so I can't buy a bunch of cheap 'practice' paint and train with it. And when I say Sunday is street art day, or graffiti day, I mean it- I don't have time during the week to make art work.

So after this short spate of street artistry, I ended up in Paripe again, earlier in the day than I like to. I like to show up, hang out for an hour or two at the most, and then split. The problem is that I get extremely bored in Paripe. The music is too loud and I don't enjoy it. The conversation is half-incomprehensible (even after six years living here) and half of the remaining half is not engaging. I had the infinite pleasure of having not one but two of Evani's drunk brothers come and mutter in my ear about how much they hate each other and who knows what else that I didn't understand. I get real tired of saying "What?" so I generally just nod and let it go if it's not a direct question.

My efforts at participating in the conversation are generally futile as well. As I am not generally interested in what they want to talk about, they aren't terribly interested in what I have to say either, and I find many of my contributions are ignored. Gossip is generally about people I don't know, or need clarification about, and if I really want to know who's being talked about I generally have to ask two or three times. If I have to say something three times I'm annoyed, so I prefer to keep quiet.

What this means is that I spend most of my time sitting there doing nothing except drinking beer. I like to drink beer, but not to the exclusion of other things, and to be honest I'd generally prefer to work than hang out in Paripe- more mentally stimulating. So I often do. It's not that I don't like the people individually, my in-laws- I like them quite a bit- almost all of them. And there are a lot of them.

Evani's oldest brother is pretty much the only one I can have an interesting conversation with. He's the only one that enjoys knowledge for its own sake and we can discuss things that don't blip on anyone else's radar. Last week we got talking about the new seed bank in Norway. This week, he was going off on some tangent about God that I wasn't following too well.

What's so sad about all this is that everyone else in the family loves going to Paripe. Evani has lots of people to talk to, which she misses being shut up in our house all day. Ruan has kids to play with, which he misses for the same reason. Lucas probably loves it more than anyone, also for the same reason. He doesn't stop running from one little house to another, playing with this cousin, that cousin, getting attention from this aunt, that uncle. Me- I could live shut up in a house by myself and not leave for days. And love it. I get weird when I do that and I won't say it's exactly healthy but hey it's in my blood. Born of days of freezing rain and sunset at 4:30. Of course, now that I have my office, I get to do that almost every day- shut myself up in a little room and get antisocial. Too bad I have to work while I'm there.

The thing is that I've never really fit conveniently in any group- not Capoeiristas, not computer programmers, certainly not graffiti artists. Probably the group I fit into most comfortably was stoners, but that's almost ten years in my past and I ain't looking back. I know that that which makes me different is also what makes me interesting so I'm not complaining... too much. Just that it gets lonely sometimes.


It's not that I fit in much better with Brazilians with more means or better education, although we often do have more to talk about. When I go out for a beer after capoeira with my friends from Nzinga, I often clam up there as well- they speak a whole different brand of Portuguese and I often understand them less than Evani's family. Plus their whole mode of interaction completely baffles me- I just don't get it. Brazilians have an ease and familiarity with one another that leaves me feeling totally on the outside. And when I see people of the upper classes- usually in shopping malls- I feel like I'm watching aliens. No point of reference whatsoever.

It occurs to me that maybe because I wasn't intensely a part of a group or a scene that this led to me ending up here. Of course, it's much more likely that it is because I was single and had been for years, but humor me here. If I'd had some great job or been part of some fantastic breakdance crew (humor me I said) maybe I never would have left the States. But I didn't, and I was open to possibilities, and I've generally followed the path that opens up in front of me, so here I am.

I certainly didn't want a boring life.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Beach and the Sea Glass Thereon

Yesterday I took Ruan and Lucas to the beach. I had to threaten Ruan with suspension of television privileges to get him to go- he wanted to visit a friend. But seeing that at the friend's house he would just sit in front of the TV playing video games or watching cartoons (exactly what he does most of the time at home) I was determined to get him out into the great outdoors to frolic a bit.

Once we got there it was fine. Ruan loves the beach, as does Lucas. And Lucas loves Ruan and follows him everywhere and wants to do whatever he's doing, or get him to do whatever he (Lucas) is doing. This is starting to get complicated because although Ruan adores his little brother he is almost 11 while Lucas is only 3 and he's starting to want to do stuff that doesn't involve the little tiny guy. So I relaxed and drank beer and watched them play. The only place I like to drink beer before noon is at the beach. I often lament the lack of microbreweries and the general consistent quality of the beer here (lager, lager, or lager- with an occasional sickly sweet opaque brew in the mix) but Brazilian beer is never better than at a scorching hot beach at teeth achingly cold temperatures. Cerveja, bem gelada! is the war cry of the beach-going Brazilian.

I lobstered myself because I wasn't real careful with the suntan lotion. My poor bald forehead got scorched, and because of a flash of idiocy with the clippers so did my chest- usually my crop of chest hair prevents it from burning, but in the zeal of hair cutting I cropped it as well.

I brought home a bunch of sea glass to put in the fish tank. Sea glass is easy to come by here in Salvador. I used to spend long afternoons in North Carolina at Topsail Island with my head down, scanning the sand for shells, shark's teeth, and sea glass- as were most of the other beach goers at the time. We would go back to the beach house and lay out our finds on the benches surrounding the deck, and bring them back to wherever home was where generally they got stashed and forgotten. Here, nobody cares about sea glass- in fact, it doesn't even register. Once when Lucas was much smaller we went to another beach that had so much lovely sea glass that I gathered as much as I had time for, and then left the rest there. When I showed it to Evani and some other soteropolitanos (this is a wonderful word for someone from Salvador) they didn't even know what it was. Living their entire lives within spitting distance of the ocean, and having most likely stepped on more sea glass than I will collect in my entire life, it had not even blipped on their radar.

Also, because of the general Brazilian propensity to throw trash on the ground, out the car window, or over the side of the boat, there is lots and lots of glass getting polished in the Brazilian tides.

Looks great in the fish tank.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Haircut


Tonight, in a move that was long overdue, I continued a cycle I have maintained since I was 16.

I cut my hair.

Big deal, you are saying, what makes you so special?

Well, maybe I'm not so special. But I can't remember the last time I had a haircut, and now my hair is too short to grab on to. That's the cycle. From very long to very short. It's been about six years since I had the very short, which makes this the longest cycle of the long cycle since I was sixteen. I've had long hair for the whole time I've lived in Brazil.

I remember when my brother and I went to Hawaii to visit an old high school friend. He told us later that he tried to tell his then-girlfriend what we look like. "Well," he said, "They might have long hair, but then again, they might have short hair." Helpful advice. "They might have beards, but maybe they won't." That was how we were, moving back and forth, changing it up. My brother has had short hair for many years now, and I've had long hair for many years too. It was time for a change up.

Evani lobbied for a cut that would leave my hair about chin length. No way, I told her, it's all or nothing. I'm going for the clippers. I really enjoy moving from one extreme to the other this way, especially from long to short because it's so dramatic and has such an effect on people. Even Evani's a little flipped out by the change. Luckily, Lucas is not (maybe just a little)- he was the one I was worried about.

I actually prefer myself with short hair, and I can't really believe I let it stay long for as long as I did. It was getting to be a trap- I've been meaning to cut it for a long time and just haven't been able to bring myself to do it. I had pretty much decided that I would cut it tonight, and then started thinking oh, but my mom is coming, maybe I should wait until she's gone, blah blah. And the worst of the worst- I'll never have hair like this again.

I may not. But then again, the last time I cut off my long hair I was determined not to grow it out again, and now I've had it the longest, for the longest time, of my entire life. But I don't miss it, not one tiny bit, and I'm way too bald for long hair (have been for years).

The whole long hair thing has pursued me since I was very young, being raised by hippie parents and all I suppose it was inevitable. The big break was at sixteen when I decided to go to a buzz cut for the first time and realized just how liberating it is. And I love that feeling of short cropped hair, running your hand through it, feeling it stand up like bristles on a brush.

I came home thinking about finally making the chop, and then Evani goaded me: "Mark's been talking about cutting this hair forever" so I said "Let's go." And I meant it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sickness and Spare Change

I have some weird illness that I caught from Lucas- it kept him, and therefore us, awake for three nights last week so it's kind of like the second time I've had it. If Evani gets it after me it will be like I've had it three times. I'm running a fever and my mouth is full of sores. I have postponed going to the doctor, but today when I woke up I discovered my hands are covered with red welts that look like flea bites or angry little red zits. Or little chicken pox. Time to go to the doctor.

When I lived in the States, I hardly ever got sick. I used to get migraines a lot, and those have gone away since I moved here, which is fantastic. However, I've had other health problems since I expatriated. The first year I lived here I had constant intestinal problems, which I suppose was to be expected what with the different foods and internal fauna and such... but what really drove me nuts were all the colds I caught. I would go a year or two without a cold in the States- but here it seemed like I caught one every couple months. I hated it.

And of course there was the dengue fever I caught the first time I was here...

And that totally weirdo affliction I had where I completely lost my sense of equilibrium and couldn't walk without supporting myself with a hand on the wall... the doctor said it was actually stress related...

And the couple times my throat swelled up so much that I couldn't eat because it was too painful...

And the freakin' scabies that plagued us for a couple months when Lucas was a baby...

Am I forgetting anything?

Illness is no joke here. There's lots of tuberculosis, and polio is still widespread, amongst other things. An acquaintance of a friend of mine died of tetanus the first time I visited. I think everyone hears about the high incidence of aids here, but as far as I know I don't know anyone, or know of anyone, who has it or has died from it. Occasionally homeless folks will come up to me and tell me they have aids and can't I help them with some change, but I don't generally believe much of what these folks tell me- their situation is such that they say what they think they have to to get some cash for whatever it is they really need. I can't begrudge them too much, although I do think it's a shame when someone comes up to you with a baby and says they desperately need to take him to the hospital, or shoves a prescription in your face and tells you that their child desperately needs it filled. The first happened to me and I discovered that the baby wasn't even his, and of course didn't need to go to the hospital. The second happened (actually has happened more than once) and I discovered that the concerned parent had been toting that prescription around for days to accumulate donations. Nobody told me that until after I gave her five reis out of the goodness of my heart to save her child.

So I started out talking about sickness and ended up talking about begging. I know you get people asking for money pretty much everywhere in the world, but being hit up for change here in Salvador is a constant occurrence, especially for a Gringo. I've heard it's worse than the rest of Brazil, even the rest of Bahia. Part of it is of course because there is intense poverty here, and although it's hard for me to see that (I don't tune it out very well) at least I have sympathy for those without recourse. But there's another side to it- what they call in Brazil cara de pau (face of wood). This describes the person who will come up to you and do or ask something totally outrageous with a straight face like it's normal. That kind of beggar drives me nuts. The guy who will hit me up for change not because he needs it, but just because I presumably have some and he wants some. Probably to buy a cigarette, or a beer or something. There are tons of people like that here in the city, and they tend to cluster in the same areas as the tourists. There's a name for them: caçadores, or hunters, because they prey on tourists. Caçadores can function on many levels but I'm not going to get into that right now.

I know this isn't a problem confined to Salvador, I remember seeing punk rockers in San Francisco with a couple hundred dollars in piercing jewelry embedded in their faces bumming change. I remember when Phish came to town in Amherst, and suddenly there were groups of hippies looking for a handout on the street corners. A friend of mine had someone ask him for change and then recognize him as a college classmate. But that doesn't make it any more pleasant, especially when you have to keep saying 'no.'

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Weekend Part II - Sunday


Sunday we did something we unfortunately very rarely do- we got out of the city.

I was raised in the country, but I feel very comfortable in the city as well- maybe too comfortable. I would love to have a second place for us to go, a place with at least a back yard and a tree, but back when I had money and it was worth something I blew it and didn't 'invest.' Now that dream has pretty well receded over the horizon.

However, Evani's friend Sylvia did invest in a piece of land, in a small city about an hour from here called Amelia Rodriguez. 'Amelia,' as we call it, is a cute town with a nice little square and some pretty houses. And lots of trees and fields and such. If you start to drive out of town, there's a side road in horrible condition, so as to be almost impassable in my little car. This road is lined on both sides with tiny, decrepit houses- poverty worse than most of the favelas in Salvador. Many of these houses are made of taipa, which is a kind of mud and lath construction which has been replaced by brick and cement houses wherever anyone can afford it. Evani and her family used to live in a house made of taipa, with no electricity or running water.

That's where Sylvia bought her land.

You don't have to get very far out of the city for the countryside to start to remind me of home- rolling hills, fields, cows... but instead of oaks, maples and birches you get palms, bamboo, and almonds. The main highway out of the city is a mess- a mosaic of asphalt patches, deep grooves, and lots of traffic. It's actually in pretty good shape compared to a lot of roads here in Brazil.

Sylvia is building a barracão for the boiadeiro - a Candomblé church for the spirit of the caboclo that frequently takes Sylvia and provides us with advice, gives us ritual cleansings and folk medicines. It's almost finished. Everyone went out there because the same windstorm that I wrote about in a previous post ripped some of the roofing off and they went to shore it up.

I love the country- especially the peace and quiet. Of course, it's often hard to find peace and quiet in Brazil, even in the country. Sylvia's son Bira now lives out in Amelia and is what they call a pagodeiro, ie a fan of pagode. I am not a fan of pagode. I especially wasn't a fan of the pagode of the day, featuring all of the current mindless hits in a live mix with the singer constantly riling the crowd with "Va, va, va, va, va!!" which means "go, go, go!!" but the way he was saying it it sounded more like he was herding cows or goats or something.

The first thing I enjoyed in Amelia was some fresh acerola straight from the bush. Here they have a funny custom of calling a fruit bearing tree or bush a pe, which means 'foot.' So an acerola bush is a 'foot of acerola.' Best foot I've ever tasted.

The best thing about Amelia is the waterfall that lies at the end of her road. They tell me that tourists come through that little favela to check it out. After the houses peter out and you start to walk downhill, you enter bamboo forests with bromiliads as big as I am. It's so easy to forget that I live in the tropics and I can see these wonderful things outside, not in some botanical garden hothouse. Both Lucas and I have had the closest thing to a baptism for either of us in this same waterfall- Nelson called me into the water and put his hands on my head and I don't know what he did, but afterwards he told me that now I am his filhado, which is like a godson. The last time we were there, the boiadeiro took Sylvia at the falls (ie she went into trance) and he baptized Lucas.

The Weekend Part I: Saturday

Evani and I had developed a system for me to have more time to get work done, before I got my office. On Saturday, she would go out to Paripe where she grew up, actually in the same house she grew up in, which has now been diced up between her and her siblings into individual living spaces. In her little apartment, she has the same bedroom she used to share with her three sisters. She would stay there with the kids and then on Sunday I would go and pick them up. This gave me a nice big block of time to work without interruptions. It also had other benefits, as it allowed me to spend some time by myself, which was sorely wanting at that time.

Since I got the office, which admittedly hasn't been long, we haven't been doing this anymore. But this weekend we did- actually, she went on Friday and I picked her up on Saturday evening. Saturday was a pretty uneventful day, work and more work, and at about 7:30 I got in the car to pick her up. Not a half mile from my house, I came upon the first accident of the evening- some guy had bounced off the windshield of a car and was laying, unmoving, in the street. It must have just happened. As I drove by, someone was checking his pulse to see if he was still alive. I have no idea if he lived or died.

Part of my route to Paripe, which is about a half-hour drive, is along BR324, which is a six lane urban highway with almost no lighting, few guard rails, and lots of pedestrians. One of these pedestrians must have gotten hit by a car as I passed another accident scene, this one with ambulance and lots of stopped cars, and they were helping the guy into a stretcher as far as I could tell so I think he was okay. That was accident number two.

Accident number three was the craziest. As I was turning off the main road to drive into Evani's neighborhood, there was a huge crowd gathered and blocking the road. I can't believe it, I thought, something else happened. I parked the car and got out, and what I saw was a barraco (teeny tiny house) that was half caved in. Then I rounded the corner and saw why- a car had driven right into it. I found out later that the owner, a guy called Zé Banana (translates as 'Banana Joe') had been in the house when it got hit, but luckily he wasn't on the side that collapsed and he was able to get out. The driver, by consensus drunk out of his gourd, had come roaring the wrong way down an onramp and lost control of the car when he hit the main road, skidding out and smashing into Zé Banana's barraco. His car was buried under rubble, or I imagine he would have taken off in it, as it was he got out of the car and took off.

Evani's neighborhood is favela. It's not as bad as a lot of favelas, as it's way on the edge of the city and there are a fair amount of trees there still. Evani's father told me that when he went to claim his land and build a house that he had to open a path with a machete- that was only 30 years ago. I lived there for about a year all told, at the end of my first year here in Brazil, and then on my return as I was searching for a house of my own and then restoring it. I never really liked it there- I was the only white guy in the area but that wasn't the problem. I had more nasty race-based encounters living in Brooklyn. Paripe didn't really have anything to offer me. I didn't feel comfortable just walking around, because it was dangerous and I made a spectacle of myself- everyone knew who I was and the assumption is that if you are a gringo you are loaded. Which, by their standards, I was- but not as loaded as they thought I was. So there's a lot of negativity (olho grosso) directed at me. And Evani's family, although all very nice, have almost nothing in common with me and there was very little for us to talk about. Still isn't for that matter. And all her brothers are serious alcoholics and periodically get into fights with one another which is unpleasant. But the real reason I don't like Paripe is because of the noise. It's so freakin' loud there. Everyone's got a sound system and everyone plays it loud. I felt at times that I was living in a dorm again. Even the Catholic church that is next door to Evani's house would have all night revivals, and here in Brazil that includes amplified guitars and drum sets. They listen to a lot of reggae, which is okay, I like reggae, but it was always the same discs over and over and that got tired real fast. But the other musics they like here I can't stand- Pagode (Bahia style) and Seresta (also Bahia style). Pagode is an extremely testosterone-driven, modern, lame-ass Samba variation that features sirens and extremely misogynistic lyrics. It is invariably played very very loud. Seresta is a guy with a keyboard and a canned preset beat playing a few chords, and another guy (occaisionally a woman) singing - generally cover tunes. Syrupy romantic love songs almost invariably. The latter is marginally better than the former, but due to overexposure I can't stand either of them anymore.

Which brings me back to Saturday night. There we were in Paripe, having a nice cold beer (Skol is the brand of choice, Evani won't drink most of the others). There was some loud music in the little bare earth square outside of the 'compound' where Evani's family lives- some big speakers on the porch facing out. Then Adilson showed up.

Adilson is 'married' to Evani's cousin Regiane. They're not actually married, but here in Bahia the words 'girlfriend' and 'boyfriend' are reserved for more casual relationships (or the 'other' girl/boy friend). Adilson is a nice enough guy, but he's mounted one of these loathsome sound systems in his car that are so popular here. Here in Bahia they love to mount a huge sound system in their cars, but not for use while driving. Not even for use of those inside the car. All the speakers are mounted in the trunk facing out, and the primary purpose is to roll up somewhere, open the trunk, and crank it. The music of choice is almost invariably pagode.

So now we have the first really loud pagode blasting, and now Adilson's competing pagode also at ear-rattling, conversation-quenching, thought-disrupting volume. The only saving grace? He didn't point his car at the compound, but in another direction.

And that's a typical Saturday night in Paripe.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

DJ Mixes and Worlds Collide

This all started when Last.fm popped up a two hour dj mix by the Deep House Cat Show. I love dj mixes, and like a fool I loaded another page into my Last.fm window and lost the feed. But I lost it in favor of a Google search for the Deep House Cat Show, which caused the proverbial light bulb to go on over my head. If these guys are serving up free mix sets as a podcast, I though, brilliantly, then there must be other ones- even better ones!

Of course, I discovered in short order that there are- lots of them. Now I beat my proverbial head on the desk and ask myself Why, I say, did it take me so long to figure this out?

Anyhow, I plan to make up for lost time. I quickly discovered Blentwell.com, an excellent site which lists dozens of shows to download in all their kaleidoscopic glory of assorted genres. I've downloaded about 6 or eight so far, all fantastically different, almost all very listenable. One of these was by a guy called Mr. Phipson, by far the best of what I've found so far. I loaded his page, and wait a minute, I says to myself, I know those images. 'Those images' were stickers made by a guy who's work I've seen quite a bit on Flickr- a guy who calls himself Stick-a-Thing and makes stickers and lives in Berlin and originally attracted my attention because he states a love of Capoeira Angola. I made him a contact, then removed him as a contact because I sent him some messages and he never replied and I got annoyed.

You know what's coming.

Apparently, Mr. Phipson and Stick-a-Thing are the same person. And now three of my worlds have collided- my love of electronic music, of Capoeira Angola, and of street art.

I guess I'll have to subscribe to his podcast.

Update: Mr. Phipson himself discovered this post the same day as I posted it! I was floored until I did a Google blog-specific search for Mr. Phipson and this post came up on top. He left a comment (a first for this blog), have a look.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Street Art, Defiled

Has The Splasher made a trip to Salvador?

Has he left his home in New York to enjoy a holiday in the tropics, and destroy some graffiti while he is here? Did he, in fact, ruin the piece that I painted yesterday?

Actually, I don't think it was The Splasher at all, I think it was André, the self-described alcoholic (I go to bed drunk, I wake up drunk!) who was my best friend and biggest fan yesterday as I was painting. His basement apartment/studio faces the wall that I was painting, and he wasn't there when I started.

When he showed up, the first thing he said to me was Bacana! which means 'great' or 'awesome' in Portuguese, and he proceeded to be super friendly and appreciative of the work I was doing. He offered me water, and gave me a crate to stand on to paint higher up than I could reach.

As time went on, he started to get kind of erratic- running out with a brush of his own and dabbing paint on the 'Jesus Loves You' just to the right of my mural. He got a little upset when I painted my name 'Kuza' underneath- "Hold on a second! That's the Chinese Mafia. That's serious stuff." I told him he was thinking of the Yakuza, and that they are in fact Japanese. And that wasn't what I was writing. He came up and tapped me on the back a couple times to make some kind of comment, then changed his mind. "Never mind. Keep going." At one point he asked me what the moth signified, and I gave him a vague answer because that's basically all I had for him. Nothing real heavy going on there.

When I left him he had my email and phone number and told me he would call me. Heaped me with praise and seemed eager to continue the friendship.

When I returned the next morning with Lucas in tow (he loves to see my paintings, he truly is my biggest fan), I noticed as I was approaching that something was wrong. The piece had been splashed with blue paint, as had a second bichinho I had painted and a pichação tag that I'd let some guy walking by paint with my cans.

André was there. "O Marcos," he says, "I left some paint sitting outside my door and someone ruined your painting. I think it must have been this Jesus lover who painted this wall here." The painting, André, that you were dabbing at yesterday as I was working on this one?

I knew immediately that it was him that had done it. I was so angry that I left without taking any photos, with barely a word to the idiot who had been so friendly the day before.

After I dropped Lucas off at school, I went back. I wanted pictures for this blog, if nothing else. As I was taking them, André started in again. "I'm going to talk to the night watchman, because I came home drunk last night and someone keeps painting this stuff around here..."

"You sure you don't know who painted this?" I asked, to his back, as he was seated at his easel working on a painting of his own.

"No."

"Because I think you did it."

"No, no way, never. I would never do something..."

You have to imagine his voice trailing off as walk away. I can't stand confrontation, and just telling him that I thought he was the culprit was about as much as I could handle.

When I looked more carefully at the photos, I noticed something else- he hadn't just thrown paint on the murals, he'd actually attacked two of them, pretty viciously to judge by the chunks of concrete that had been dislodged from the wall.

The funny thing is that I was drawn to painting in this place specifically. There are lots of available white walls within walking distance of my house where many more people are likely to see my work, but I'd set my sights on this spot, so I guess I was asking for it.