Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunday is Wheatpaste Day


Yesterday I didn't hit the streets with a bag of cans, or sharpies in my pocket. Yesterday I went out with a bucket containing a brush, a folder of copies, and a can of wheatpaste.

Wheatpaste is one of those things that is fantastic because it's so simple and so cheap- who would have thunk that wheat flour and water, when heated, makes a great glue?

Well, apparently someone thunk it because it's been around for a long time.

The image I pasted up five times on my regular turf between Campo Grande and Praça da Sé (ie within walking distance of my house) is a drawing I did about twelve years ago called Computer Freak.

Computer Freak has an interesting story. I drew it as I was recovering from jet lag after returning from a nine month international journey that ended in Thailand. I went from a very warm and green place to a very cold and slushy place- I arrived in Boston in March and my brother whisked me away to his house in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. This saved me from the worst of the culture shock, but there wasn't much to be done about the nearly 12 hour time difference except try to sleep it off. This took more days than it should have, and during my more lucid moments I did this drawing. The original is tiny, about 4 by 6 inches, and as you can see crammed with detail. Originally the guy had electrodes going right into his head but I thought that was a little over the top so I removed them. I didn't actually buy a computer for another couple years after I did the drawing.

Despite its tiny size, I discovered that it enlarges really well, and I poster-printed a version of it about a year or so ago on nine sheets of paper and hung it on my wall. When I started to get into the sticker thing and was checking out street-art related groups on Flickr, I saw this image by d3d! and was... inspired. d3d! was also the first guy to tell me what wheatpaste was all about. So I printed out another version of the Computer Freak and had some copies made at my local copyshop. And then they sat around for months- until yesterday.

Another thing I did for the first time was include my markuza.com address along with the images, which makes me cringe a little bit but this has been part of the plan for a long time and it's time to get on with it. Let's see if I get a little spikie in the traffic reports for markuza.com. Maybe someone will even want a copy of the Computer Freak postcard, it's available for free after all.
This is one of the most popular and often-changing spots in the center of the city for graffiti- here is work by Limpo and Prem as well as mine. As you can see Limpo also posted his email- I guess he's gotten a bunch of commissions that way.

This one got hidden by a street vendor

This picture shows how the image is really too small to compete with big pieces like this one by Mônica- who is one of the only female street artists in the city (Prem's another one)


I also discovered that one of my street drawings is no more- or rather it's hidden behind another piece of scrap wood on this makeshift wall.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Day Book

June 3, 1998

Well- I got my first webpage up yesterday, I think- I couldn’t access it today, not that it was terribly interesting, the old “can of beer” website.

Had a rather productive day today, as opposed to yesterday which didn’t seem so productive at all, despite the can of beer. Today I drew bugs for a couple hours, worked on the KF logo, scanned some slides, edited the Borg design.

I’m also running low on power so I think it’s time to quit.

* * * * *

I'm having a lull in my work schedule right now, so I took some time yesterday to rummage through some old files I have backed up on CD's. I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find something completely unexpected- a folder called 'daybook' which contains several dozen entries over four years of my daily activities. Not exactly a complete record, but enough to surprise me and bring back some vivid memories.

My past efforts at journal-keeping have been pretty pathetic, with a notable exception. My 'domestic' journals tended to have only really boring entries or angst-ridden ones from when I was going through a low point in my life. They are very unpleasant to read. Next time I find them I will burn them so nobody will ever be subjected to them again. Especially me.

The notable exception to this rule are the journals I have kept during my travels. I made regular and detailed entries for my trips: around the US by car, Eurailing it through Europe, backpacking in Asia, and even my first trip here in Brazil. I'll have to check to see if I wrote one for the trip I took with Evani in Europe, I'm thinking I did. Kinda tough to verify as all these journals are in a chest up at my Dad's house along with the majority of my surviving artwork, some thousands of miles away. Due to the number and length of those trips, I figure I probably have at least one entry for every day of the year. I've thought it would make an interesting compilation- I could even make a book out of it, with different entries from each trip written up for each day of the year. If I ever get really motivated, and am freed from the day to day demands on my time, and find myself in the same place as the journals, maybe I'll do that some day.

So let's review that entry I posted some ten years ago with a little context.

Well- I got my first webpage up yesterday, I think- I couldn’t access it today, not that it was terribly interesting, the old “can of beer” website.

Ah, my first website. You never forget your first. Actually, I had completely forgotten about it until last night. I had no idea how to build a web page at the time, and I built that one using Microsoft Publisher- a program that I thought no longer existed but I just checked online and apparently it's still around. It was an extremely primitive, if simple, way to create websites and actually up until pretty recently a portion of my kfpro.com site still had code from back in my Publisher days.

The site, which was appended onto my user account from my ISP and had some useless url like www.sover.net~mpfohl, was probably never viewed by anyone but me. It showed a drawing, done by me, of a can of beer, with a clever caption reading something like 'A can of beer.' Then there was a link to the other page, with a similar drawing, with a similar caption reading 'Another can of beer.' I found that extremely amusing at the time. If you want another example of just how opaque my humor can be, have a look at this.

Had a rather productive day today, as opposed to yesterday which didn’t seem so productive at all, despite the can of beer. Today I drew bugs for a couple hours, worked on the KF logo, scanned some slides, edited the Borg design.

So what am I talking about here? At the time I wrote that, I was trying pretty seriously to get into marketing my artwork as t-shirts and postcards. I did a bunch of artwork, but ultimately gave up on the plan for various reasons, not least of them my being lazy and unwilling to make the hurdle into the 'marketing' aspect of it.

This plan hasn't entirely gone away, and it even experienced a renaissance of enthusiasm about a year ago. Unfortunately, I have much less time now than I did then and I'm still unsure about my prospects of marketing the stuff, but I have a bunch of ideas for Bahian themed drawings that I think would be popular with tourists- there's nothing like it around here.

I've actually found that a number of my abandoned projects are coming back in a new form. I used to do lots of drawings on blank index cards, these drawings were the precursors of the stickers I make now. I used to think about writing a book about travel, now I'm writing this blog. And who knows if I won't get back to the shirts and the postcards for real. I certainly want to. Will I ever get back to writing underground comics? I doubt it.

I did get as far as having some shirts and cards printed- my relatives and inlaws wear the shirts, and I'm trying to give away postcards on my website but haven't had much interest.

I’m also running low on power so I think it’s time to quit.

No, I didn't write this because I was working on a laptop. In June of 1998, I was house-sitting for my brother, who used to own a house in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont that was off the grid. Solar panels and batteries. I did that for two summers, and they were awesome summers. I had a big honking desktop with a 17 inch monitor and I generally had to use it during the day because it drew so much juice that I could only run it for short periods when the sun wasn't shining. This must have been one of those periods.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Parking

I just listened to a story on All Things Considered about some newfangled computerized system to monitor empty parking spaces in San Francisco. The system would allow rates to be changed for different times of day and you could find empty spaces on your cell phone, etc. All the freakin' bells and whistles.

I love stories like this on the one hand, because I find technology fascinating and enjoy listening to what is coming next. On the other hand, it makes me realize just how far I am from home.

Admittedly, this system could take years to get implemented in San Francisco, if it ever happens at all. But here in Salvador, in Bahia, in Brazil, it's gonna be many years. Salvador doesn't even have parking meters as far as I know.

What Salvador has is hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have as their only or primary means of employment to watch over a number of parking spaces, help drivers get in and out of them, and sometimes wash the cars that they watch over. My neighborhood must support about a dozen guys like this. On the bigger streets and in some of the fancier neighborhoods these people are apparently legalized- they wear official vests over their clothes and write out paper tickets that you display on your dashboard, with the price of the parking on it. But most of the time, it's just a guy with a rag waving you toward an empty spot and asking for some change or one real (Brazilian dollar) or sometimes more. The most shameless of these guys work in Pelourinho, where I have been asked for as much as five reis to park my car. I mean- I know I'm obviously an estrangeiro here, but do I really have 'idiot' written across my forehead? Generally when someone tries to get me to pay that much I just move to another spot. I've actually got it pretty well figured 0ut where I can park for free in most of the places I go.

Not that these guys are all bad. There are certainly places where I need to park that I'd rather have someone at least nominally keeping an eye on my car rather than have it all alone while I go do something. When it really bugs me, beyond the absurd fools in Pelourinho, is when I just need to stop for five minutes and suddenly there's a guy at my window wanting a real for almost nothing. Sometimes I just want a parking meter.

And then there's the army (or is it armies?) of window-washer guys...

And all the little children who juggle devil sticks at stoplights for change...

And the people who sell DVD's or water or fruit or candy or WHATEVER while you're waiting for the light to change.

Poverty is a terrible thing. This is something I've always known, but I know it much more intimately now than I ever have in the past. Some of these things I think are very wrong- I hate seeing little kids juggling for change on the street, and I hate to think of how they ended up doing so. But most of these people are working very hard for very little money, doing what they can to make some cash in an economy that doesn't present them with many options, and I can't begrudge them for it. I just wish they had more options.

Kids, You're Having Too Much Fun

Sigh... the boys got into Photo Booth while I was out driving my brother in law home from the hospital. Look at these gems they left for me:

Such nice looking boys. Not to be outdone, I had to take one myself.

I think I was still outdone.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Smile, You're On The Internet

Nothing like going to a web site and seeing a photo of yourself:


Here I am with my mom at an opening for the 'Arte Graffiti na Galeria' event here in Salvador- it actually took place within walking distance of my house, always a bonus. This was a project that was done to help graffiti artists learn to promote themselves, and help them cross over into the gallery world. Ten artists were chosen and put the show together. It was extremely packed and a lot of fun. I can't remember the last time I was at an opening.

Graffiti artists like to keep a low profile, at least in the developed, prosecuting world. So I'm just going to say that in this picture is Limpo, the ultra-prolific graffiteiro who I hold responsible for my middle age folly, and Sins, who runs the paint store where we all buy our material. I won't tell you who they are.

Also- a funny thing about openings and my Candid Camera reference in the title of this post- my mom told me on this last visit here that she met Allen Funt. Where did she meet him? At an opening at his gallery in New York- of my father's paintings!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sunday is Graffiti day, Part III

I made a loop through the center of the city yesterday and did the following little paintings, using up what little paint I have left.

as I was painting this, two women in their 40's walked by, and one was all excited, saying "I've always wanted to see someone doing that"


This is in front of Lucas' school



This poor guy will never see the fantastic view of the bay


For about 50 yards on this sidewalk (which runs behind the red car in the previous photo), there was a human turd spaced evenly about every two feet. I thought they rated a big black rat for company

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ants in the Laptop

I've got ants in my laptop. One crawls out every couple minutes and I squash it. I don't normally bother to squash ants, but I really don't want them living in there.

I considered putting the laptop in the freezer, which I sometimes do with food or sugar that gets infested here, but I don't want dead ants in the laptop either.

I think my mistake was laying two pieces of my precious red licorice across the top of the keyboard, where it gets warm from the heat of the battery. I'd put them there to warm them up, because I keep them in the fridge so they don't get all stale and hard. And the stoopid ants must have smelled the sugar.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gouge

Today Joelma, who is Ruan's aunt and helps out at the house a couple days a week, cleaned the room we call my office while I was away at my 'real' office. That was fine, it was great in fact, but the problem is that she dragged a very heavy bunk bed across the floor to clean behind it. And left a huge gouge in my wood floor.

Brazilians, or at least the Bahians that I know, seem to have very little affection for wood as a building material. Especially for floors. As I mentioned in an earlier post, they all want to rip out their old wood floors and put in poured concrete ones, which they cover with tile. My office, the one outside my house, has a parquet wood floor- with cheap linoleum over the top of it. I don't know how many times I've passed a big pile of construction waste (which is constantly dumped by the side of the road throughout the city) with tons of little blocks from what was once a lovely parquet floor. Wood floors are to be gotten rid of.

I, on the other hand, was immediately drawn to the wood floors and the wooden stairway in my house. This was before I bought it, and despite the fact that they were in terrible shape. I hired one of the most absurdly incompetent contractors I've ever met to restore them and after a screaming fight, a threat to withhold payment, and about eight hours of my own labor with a disk sander, I ended up with beautiful, exotic hardwood floors that glow in the light. They are made of some kind of wood that is not commercially available anymore, a tiny sliver of the millions of acres of Atlantic Rainforest that don't exist anymore. I shoulda written down the name of it when I was told, but I didn't, or I'd trot it out right about now.

Ever since I refinished the floors it's been a battle to keep them safe. Joelma is not the first to scar them- everyone who has ever cleaned this house has left their mark (except for me, but I clean so little that I don't count). Before we moved in, I came to the house one day to discover our bedroom floor, which is the fanciest of them all, had been totally scuffed up just a week or so after it had been refinished. I freaked out and called the cable company to complain; the cable had been installed the day before. The servicemen came back, as did a supervisor, who asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted my floor fixed. The supervisor explained to me that if I wanted to pursue the matter they would lose their jobs. The workmen, of course, denied having done the damage.

That was my only recourse.

The workers would be fired.

My floor would not be fixed.

That's the way things work here- if a waiter screws up your order and you complain, the waiter pays for your food. If you forget to pay the gas station attendant and drive off, the attendant pays for your gas. There's no compromise, there's no let-me-buy-you-a-gallon-of-polyurethane-for-your-trouble, it's axe the workers because they fucked up. Obviously I didn't want to do that, so I told them that I thought they weren't being entirely honest but I wasn't going to push it because I didn't think it was grounds for termination.

About a month later the same thing happened, when a guy came to assemble our new bedroom set. He dragged all the pieces of the wardrobe and the bed and the rest of it around as he was putting it together, and scratched my floor to shit. I called the store to complain, and all the manager would say was: "That's a difficult situation. That's a difficult situation." Why was it a difficult situation? Not because I was unhappy- because the guy was going to lose his job over it.

What the hell, man? I can't even complain about lousy service without someone losing their job? How do you keep an economy running like that? Why don't the people rise up and overthrow their callous employers? I did get the guy's phone number and I called him up at home. He denied everything and I lost it, I started screaming at him that I knew he did it and he did too and to stop lying to me. He finally broke down and admitted it, and begged me not to get him fired. I'm not making this up- that was exactly what he said. I was appeased by his admission and told him that I wasn't going to cost him his job, but he should be more careful in other people's houses.

The thing is that they don't even notice that they're fucking up my floor, and that I might mind. It's not even a blip on their radar. They're used to tile, which doesn't gouge. So I get all freaked out and pissed off and they wonder what the problem is. In Joelma's case, I told her not to drag things over the floor anymore, and that she'd left a big scratch in the floor. I didn't freak out and she didn't lose her job.

Sigh... at least we have only one wood floor to worry about. When this house was built, it had two- but the ground floor one is long gone. It's poured concrete and tile.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bricked

Yesssss!

Triumph!

Evani managed to brick her stolen cell phone using the serial number, which was on the box we bought it in. Ha ha! Maybe the person who stole it already sold it, but whoever bought it has a useless chunk of plastic and wires for his trouble. If he sold it, I hope the buyer goes back and pops him in the nose. Then I hope they spread the word that ill gotten gains gather no moss... or whatever it is they say.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Theft

My cell phone rang at 2:30 this morning. I checked it and it wasn't a number I recognized, so I didn't answer. Generally when this happens, it's some drunk fool, often calling collect, to talk to someone I've never heard of, and the first thing they demand to know is who they are talking to. So I didn't answer.

Then it rang again. And again. I answered.

It wasn't a collect call, and the voice on the phone was Evani's, but she wasn't talking to me. She was talking to someone else wherever she was, which was at the second day of a Candomblé ceremony. She was clearly agitated.

"Ma?" That's what she calls me. "You better call Oi and block my chip. My phone's gone."

"What happened?" I said, stupid with sleep.

"They stole it!"

So I called Oi, our cell phone provider, and I said "I'd like to report a theft s'il vous plaît."

I actually said s'il vous plaît. I studied French in junior high, which makes it... almost 25 years ago. I remember clearly that when I was here in Brazil the first time, Evani asked me to say something in French and I couldn't remember a single word- I had been working so hard to learn Portuguese that all my foreign language capacity was taken up with Portuguese words. Whenever I tried to remember a word in French, up popped the Portuguese version. And now, as I mentioned, stupid with sleep, out pops this mental anachronism.

I blocked the chip. I was bummed. This was a phone I had just bought Evani for her birthday, and it had all the bells and whistles, at least by Brazilian standards. Bluetooth, MP3 player, a decent digital camera. Luckily I hadn't yet bought the memory chip and USB cable we were needing for it. Worse, I'd 'dividido' the purchase on my Brazilian credit card (my nemesis) and still had a lot to pay on it.

Here in Brazil, they do something strange with credit cards. You can divide a purchase into a number of payments, which enter into your statement every month until the item is paid off- in this case, ten payments for ten months. This is a good thing in a way, because the interest payments on my credit card are usurious. But it's a bad thing because I'm going to be reminded every month about a phone that I am still paying for, that no longer exists.

Cell phones here work differently than in the States too. I never had a cell in the States, but if I remember correctly you pay for a plan, with a bunch of minutes, often with free evenings and/or weekends, and they either give you a phone outright, or it's quite cheap. And calls cost the same if you are calling a land line or a cell phone. Here, phones are not free, and generally not cheap. You can either buy a pre-pay, which means you need to buy credit, or a post-pay, which means you get a bill in the mail. There are probably many thousands of people in this city walking around with phones that have no credit, and can only receive calls. Calling or using cell phones is considerably more expensive than calling land lines, and if you call a cell phone, you pay for the call.

I have also never seen an iPhone here in Brazil. Even if they were available, and relatively affordable, I wouldn't dare to carry one around.

So I tried to go back to sleep, which was difficult. I was thinking about the minutes that the thief might have burned up calling people before I shut down the chip. As it turns out, I didn't need to worry about that.

Now it's noon, and Evani is home again. She told me that as she was getting ready to leave, she got her bag with the phone in it and set it down next to her chair. She was surrounded by a bunch of people who she trusted, and a couple people she didn't know. Apparently one of these people, sitting next to the bag, suddenly had a desperate need to go to the bathroom and crossed his legs to prevent an accident. He was told there was a bathroom downstairs that he could use, but he didn't use it. Evani was right there. He used the upstairs bathroom, where the little sock that she kept the phone in was found later on.

The last time my mom visited, she rented an apartment with a friend. Alone in the apartment, the friend suddenly had a knock on the door. The woman at the door tried to explain to her that she wanted something in the room my mother was staying in. The friend was confused, not speaking a word of Portuguese. She said to her wait here, I'll get my shoes, and we'll go find someone to translate. She left the woman alone in the living room for less than a minute. In that time, she got up off the couch, unplugged a charging cell phone, stashed it, and returned to her seat. The friend noticed nothing until much later. Afterwards my mom found a necklace in her room that must have been what she was after. I suspect that this woman was either a prostitute outright, or one of a class of quasi-prostitutes that exist here, women that sleep with men not for payment, but to live well for a while and maybe get some presents along the way. I also believe she may have forgotten the necklace on purpose so she'd have an excuse to come back, maybe for that very cell phone.

I tell this story partly because it's a good story, but also because it shows that the thieves here are good. They are fast, and they are smart. Whoever stole the phone, and we aren't certain it was the legs-crossed guy, may have lifted it right in front of her. He was also smart enough to turn it off immediately. That way, it didn't ring when the alarm was raised and the phone was called. It also prevented the phone from getting bricked when the chip was deactivated.

When Evani discovered the phone was missing and the alarm was raised, the party was over. The house was turned upside down, the missing phone was called, I was called, purses and bags were searched. The legs-crossed guy suddenly wanted to leave. He was not searched, but if he had the phone most likely it was in his sock or his underwear and as Evani pointed out, only the cops search those places (actually, I was once so thoroughly searched entering a show here in Brazil that the guy ran his hand right up between my legs and knocked me in the balls with some force. Whoa! No weapons in there compadre).

So now people are going to be talked to, the woman who brought the legs-crossed guy will be confronted, people will get offended, and we'll still never see the phone again.

To add proverbial insult to injury, I received an email today about how to get a unique code out of your cell phone that apparently can get it bricked even if it is stolen and a new chip installed in it. Not as good as getting the phone back, but large in vengeance points.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Annoying Inteview

er, This morning the phone went dead. This is bad, I have a huge amount of work to do and no phone, no internet. I am stuck here at the house with Ruan because Evani is not here, otherwise I'd scamper off to my office where I trust I still have an internet connection.

I went next door to the little store to see if they were having trouble with the phone as well. They weren't. So I was annoyed. When I'm annoyed, I can be an asshole- I know this, but it doesn't mean I can stop myself.

As I'm paying for some dish soap at the store, a car pulls up and a woman inside call me over- I thought to ask directions.

"Excuse me- do you live here?"

"Yes."

"But you aren't from here. Where are you from?"

The woman's manner is bothering me already. She has someone driving the car, who doesn't even bother to turn off the engine.

"I'm from the United States."

"And you live here? Why did you choose to live here?"

"Because it's central." I'm looking at her kinda funny, trying to figure out what's going on.

She finally tells me that she's a reporter for the daily newspaper A Tarde, the major newspaper in Salvador. I've actually spoken to their reporters in the past.

"You've heard of A Tarde?"

Now I'm definitely annoyed. Of course I've heard of A Tarde. It's the major newspaper in Salvador. "Of course," I say.

"But you don't read it. That would be too much."

What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Now I'm extremely annoyed. "What did you say?" I say.

"That would be too much. Do you have a house or apartment?"

"House."

"Do you rent or did you buy it?"

"I bought it."

"You bought it? Was it a ruin?"

The thing that's bothering me, beyond her presumptive tone, is her sense of mildly shocked disbelief that an American would buy a place on my street.

"No, it was not a ruin." This is true, although it was in pretty rough shape and I spent six months restoring it before we moved in. I'm looking for a way out now. I'm finding this woman rude and offensive.

"What's your name?"

"I'd prefer not to give my name."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't want to."

"What do you do?"

I'd had enough.

"That's enough. I'm done here"

"You don't want to do the interview?"

"No. I don't."

"Well, that's fine. You're not the only person I can interview."

I don't respond.

"Thank you" she says, with more than a hint of sarcasm.

I don't respond to that either. I leave, thanking Ciro, the clerk at the store. Unfortunately, she may have thought I was thanking her.

She had gotten out of the car at this point, and I looked back to see if the driver was watching me. I didn't want them to know where I lived, I didn't want them taking pictures of my house. I don't think they did.

Guess I'll have to buy the paper to see if I'm in it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I Must Not Use These Words

Crippers
Crappers

Snippers
Snappers

Shipper
Dipper
Shopper.

I imagine the legions of foul-mouthed parents that try to control their vocabulary in front of their children number in the millions. I am one of them.

I, for reasons I do not fully understand, have created this absurd poetry of pseudo-expletives inspired by way too much exposure to the likes of such brilliant fools as Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and B. Kliban. Hats off to you all.

The thing is I don't even really like the silly words I've come up with to replace the ones I don't want my son to repeat, but I can't stop saying them to myself.

Of course, these are not the words that come out of my mouth when I'm truly in need of a good, forceful curse. I expect most of you are familiar with the more satisfying variations.

And yes, of course, Lucas knows the bad ones already. In both languages.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

G'night Lucas

Evani's not here, she's helping prepare for a Candomblé that is happening on Sunday. So I'm doing the Dad thing. Lucas got tired, and I asked if he wanted to watch a movie- he said he wanted to watch 'my' movie. The only 'my movie' I had upstairs was Powaqqatsi, which I figured would be a terrible choice for a bedtime flick.

Boy was I wrong. When I watch it, I get all overwhelmed and depressed by the poverty and multitudes and dying cultures and human exploitation (hey, kinda like living here!) but when I saw it through Lucas' eyes, I saw beautifully filmed long shots with lots of slow motion and a soothing soundtrack. A true visual lullaby. He lasted maybe ten minutes.

I'll have to remember that.

Bye, Grammy

Grammy went home today. She left, not looking to kill two hours before her flight, but running to the gate. This wasn't because we were late- it was because they changed her flight. My mom gets really nervous when it comes to being late, so when they told her the plane was boarding as they gave her her boarding pass she kinda freaked. They wanted to put her in a line of about 10 people to check her bag, with 15 minutes until the flight was to leave. I know how slowly lines move here in Brazil, and I knew how flipped out Mom would be if she had to wait in that line. I told them, in Portuguese, that she wasn't going to make her plane if they made her wait. Luckily for all of us, they bumped her to the front and then she made her dash for the gate.

This was all for the better really, as she was nervous she wouldn't have enough time to take the bus between the two airports in São Paulo. Now she was looking at an 8 hour layover- I believe this is generally time enough to get all the way across the city on an average day.

Mom rates holidays and vacations like military missions- that is: 'successful' or 'unsuccessful.' We both agreed that this was a Successful Visit. Mom has visited pretty much every place I have ever lived, and there have been a lot of successful visits.

We crowned this particular visit off with a big old American style breakfast. I love a big heart-squeezer meal to start the day, but I almost never (uh, actually- never) make them for myself. Mom had to be at the airport by lunchtime, so I thought it would be fun to make a breakfast. We had omelettes with sauteed peppers and cheese, home fries and of course bacon. On a whim I bought a dozen oranges and Mom made the orange juice. That and a papaya and we ate like kings, no toast required! I don't have a toaster and don't miss it. I can't buy bagels here, so what's the point? It was just me and Mom feasting on this stuff- the Brazilians on hand were not interested.

Yesterday was also a pretty successful day, as we finally went up to the coast north of Salvador for a day at the beach. We kept Lucas out of school and he joined Grammy and me. Evani and I discovered a spot called Barra de Jacuípe, which is at the mouth of a river dumping into the ocean. Being a weekday, it was deserted and very peaceful. It's a great spot for the kids, as you can sit just shy of the mouth of the river and there are tide pools and such for them to play in. There was one guy selling beverages, and he had three tables set out with umbrellas. We took one, one was empty, and one was occupied by three guys who were nice enough to share their roast chicken with us and give Lucas some soda. This was a blessing because usually the 'barracas' as they are called serve food as well as beer, yesterday there was none to be had.

All was well until the wasps showed up. They showed up in the dozens, swarming, but not someone-stepped-on-my-hive swarming, more like where's-the-sweet-stuff-we-smell swarming. I think they must have smelled the Coca Cola and come looking for it. They weren't biting, they were questing. But they were annoying, and they made Grammy nervous. So we quit our table and I suggested we walk up to the ocean proper, a walk of about a quarter mile.

The sun is really hot here. It's the tropics. In the middle of the summer, it's like an assault from the heavens, and even a short walk without shade can be an ordeal. My poor mom suffers more than most from the heat here in Brazil. She doesn't go anywhere without a little bottle of water to keep herself hydrated.

I found myself on the other side of this problem the last time I was in the States, for Thanksgiving. Mom keeps her house at 62 degrees in the winter to conserve energy. This is not the end of the world, but I was coming from the tropics and wasn't used to it. I'm sure you've heard or made the observation yourself that if you're too cold, you can always throw on another layer; if you're too hot, there's only so many layers you can take off- thus my little boy, as most little boys here do, spends 90% of his time in the house in his underwear; I am generally only marginally more modest with a thin pair of shorts over mine. The problem this time around was not the layers, I put on a bunch and most of me was fine. The problem was where the layers ended, or joined. At my wrists. My ankles. Slipping up under my shirt and down my collar. And what was slipping in was the cold- it felt like an invading force trying to creep in wherever it could find a chink in my armor. Later, when I got back to Bahia, I had an equally bizarre sensation- it was like I had stepped into a warm bath that perfectly enveloped me at a soothing, uniform temperature. Humid, very warm, the atmosphere of Salvador welcomed me home.

So: back to the beach. Grammy is being assaulted by the midday sun. She suddenly was... extremely concerned... that she was getting sunburned. She was so concerned that she was unable to enjoy herself any longer, so we turned back. Oh well! Luckily she didn't get sunburned. I did. Lucas just got browner.

On the way back, I stopped and painted a little monster on the side of the barraca where we were buying beer- a barraca already decorated with a rather cool painting of a fish with a respirator on (which of course I didn't take a picture of). Here's the other painting it got:


I thought it came out rather well.

Back at home, Lucas redeemed himself for a day and a half of 3-year-old snottiness towards his grandmother by asking her to read Hop-on-Pop to him, a book she brought down for him which was an instant success. I was immensly

Bye Grammy. Bye Mom. It was great to see you.

When I first moved here, I had hoped to go home every year, or better yet, every six months. Or better still- to spend a part of the year in the States. It hasn't worked out that way, so it could be a while until Lucas sees his Grammy again, and he'll be a different boy. I still hope to achieve my goals of spending more time at home, but as time goes on they only seem to get further away.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Finish What You Have Started, Human

It took me a while to remember where that quote was from- it's from Spirited Away by Miyazaki. I find myself writing about his films quite a bit. I wonder what that means?

So why was I saying this to myself? Well, SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I was trying to finish what I started, and I almost wrapped it up a week later, and I can't take it anymore, so I'm finally patting myself on the back for my great accomplishments that I can't ever seem to get finished.

I finished two things- one was a street drawing that I'd started the week before and got rained out. The other was a long overdue update to my website- markuza.com. They have a saying here: "Casa de ferreiro, espeito de pau," which means "Blacksmith's house, wooden skewers." Which means whatever it is you do professionally tends to go untended personally. But you probably figured that out already. And this is all a very long-winded way of me saying that I neglect my poor innocent websites, markuza.com and also kfpro.com, the poor things. But markuza.com just got a little better! I put up some galleries of my artwork (btw iPhoto writes atrocious HTML) and I am now giving away free postcards of my work. Just go to www.markuza.com and fill out the form, in the language of your choice, as long as it's English or Portuguese. Now how's that for a plug? Since I get about 10 visitors on this blog every day, I expect to have 10 free postcard requests tomorrow. Yeah, right. Anyhow, they are free. So go get one.

The other thing this human hadn't finished was a drawing I started last month and was interrupted by a torrential downpour. Here it is in its finished state:


I need to do about 20 more of these...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sunday is Graffiti Day, Part II

Here's some art I left behind in the Reconcavo:






Saturday, April 5, 2008

O Reconcavo Bahiano



This is my first blog post written on a strange computer. In fact, it is the first blog post I´m not writing at home.

I´m writing from an internet café at the hotel where I am staying with my mom, in São Felix, right across the river from Cachoeira, twin cities of some renown here in what is know as the Reconcavo of Bahia, a fertile countryside that is... not a city of nearly three million people.

I´m also typing on a freakin´ Brazilian keyboard, which I can´t stand, they have all these different keys for the accents right where I expect my shift to be, or my apostrophe, etcetera. Makes for slow typing. It´s also why I had a keyboard sent to my mom´s house for her to bring down for me.

Ever since my mother´s first trip to Brazil, she´s wanted to come here to Cachoeira. For one reason or another it never happened. So this time I promised her that we would make the trip. My Welsh friend, who recently made a trip through the Reconcavo, recommended that I catch the ferry out of Salvador and drive across the island of Itaparica, and then work my way north up to Cachoeira. This turned out to be a brilliant plan, partly because we got to avoid the hellish highway that leads out of Salvador that is the most common route here.

We visited a couple pieces of my graffiti en route on Itaparica, and then we passed through the town of Nazaré. Nazaré is not listed in my venerable Lonely Planet Brazil (cerca 2002?), but I saw signs that said something to the effect of `Visit the Christ Statue of Nazaré.´ As just about everyone knows, Rio has the immense Christ Redeemer statue on top of one of their picturesque hillocks (in fact, it is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World). What most people don´t know is that there are other cities here in Brazil with Christ statues, some on hills, some in other places. Nazaré, it turns out, is one of those places. So we drove up and checked out the Christ statue and my mom loved it. I must admit I thought it was pretty cool myself. What kind of ruined the effect was the small forest of steel telecommunications towers located on the hill behind him- he was probably 30 feet tall, but the towers... towered over him. Or behind him. But hey, we could see him from a long way off.

Next we went, also on my friend´s advice, to a little town called Maracujipinho. This is the kind of place that really inspires me to buy a little plot of land and/or a house outside of Salvador. This wouldn´t be terribly expensive, if I only had money to spend... The problem would be that I would have to leave Salvador to go there. At any rate, this little town is know for its pottery, and that was what we were there to see. Our first stop: a house where they were wrapping clay pigs. Hundreds of them, in various sizes. The kind with a slot in the top where you can insert coins. They were ridiculously inexpensive, so we bought three- one for mom, and two for the kids so I can filling them up for them. Mom got to watch an old timer throw some pots, but no pigs. I think pigs must be harder to throw.

Next we drove to Cachoeira. This was more remarkable than it may seem initially. What is most incredible about it is that as I mentioned, Salvador is a city of well more than two million people, and creaks and groans under the weight of all of them. Mom described the city as ´noisy,` ´dirty,´and ´smelly,´and, of course, her favorite adjective for all things Brazilian: ´Hot.´ And here we were, on a brand new deserted highway, with nothing but trees and cows for miles. Not even any houses. Or any other cars! I was particularly impressed by this, as I know what most roads in the interior of Brazil look like.

The road got extremely pretty after our super-smooth, arrow-straight, asphalt-drying stretch. Up and down, twisting, turning, views of the Bay of All Saints that I call home but rarely see.

The party was over when we hit one of the more typical Brazilian highways as we approached Cachoeira from the São Felix side. These roads look like they´ve been bombed, with lots and lots of very small bombs. Driving becomes a matter of accelerating from one pothole to the next, making split-second decisions about the depth and frequency of the breaks in the roadbed, and how hard you need to hit the brakes before you fall into them. The potholes come every 10 to 30 yards, with the occaisional quarter mile of smooth pavement. Making for extremely frustrating driving, especially with a grumpy parent roasting in the sun to your rightand trying hard not to complain.

And then there we were- with the twin cities of Cachoeira and São Felix before us. Grumpy. Tired. Hungry. Hot. We pulled in and went straight to a restaurant for a long overdue lunch. Between the car and the front door of the restaurant, we were intercepted by a hippie bearing many necklaces; starting at his wrist and ending at the elbow. He ordered me to have a look, and I made the great American mistake, I said: "Maybe Later."

I thought I had learned this lesson- I thought I learned it when I was in Jamaica, my pre-Brazilian proving ground and by far the toughest place I have ever visited. You don´t tell a Jamaican maybe later, unless you mean it- because they will find you later, or they will wait for you until later arrives.

That´s what this guy decided to do. He sat down outside the restaurant and stared at me waiting for later to arrive. Despite the fact that I hadn´t so much as opened a menu.

I remarked to my mother that I don´t have much contact with hippie culture anymore, although there was a time that I did. Back then, they were mostly called Deadheads, which dates me pretty well; back then they used to call it ´Slam Dancing´ too. Here in Brazil they are called Hippies and a large portion of them walk around with big panels of black satin on which their hand-made jewelry is displayed and which they wander around trying to get you to buy. Some of this stuff is actually pretty nice, although I rarely look at it because once you do then you have to get rid of the person selling it, or buy something. Evani has a fair amount of this kind of jewelry, and it looks great on her. Actually, I should say ´had´because they are mostly made of seeds and dried flower parts and whatnot and they invariably attract bugs of one sort or another that eat them and basically make them unpleasant to wear. We´ve tried putting the jewelry in the freezer to kill off the invaders, but it´s a temporary solution.

So every time I look over this guy is staring right at me. I was annoyed anyways- he was making it worse. My mom made a gesture intended to give him a hint (not obscene), he didn´t take it. I went over to him and asked him if he wanted something. At first he mentioned the necklaces, then claimed to be waiting for some food from the restaurant. I promptly verified the inaccuracy of this statement with the proprietors, and informed them that he was bugging me. The owner went over and had a talk with him: he left. Thank God. Haven´t seen him since. Hope I never see him again.

I generally try to avoid the obvious content for these posts, and say something about the more random, which unfortunately (or not) tends to be what fills up my consciousness. So that´s essentially all I have to say about Cachoeira for now- we wound up in this decent hotel right on the waterfront, on the São Felix side, and my poor mom got served a plate of fish for dinner due to my imperfect command of the Portuguese language. She hates fish. Poor Mom.

Tomorrow´s her birthday.

I´ve had a couple drinks.

So I´m going to do what I usually don´t- I´m going to hit the Publish button without a round of revisions.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Adeus, NET, Adeus

A guy on a motorcycle just picked up my cable box, thus ending the most tortured relationship I've ever had with a corporation in my entire life. I figure they must have had a big red flag on my account for any time I called in to customer support: "Warning: may flip out on phone."

I don't think I will get into why I used to flip out on the phone with them, but then again, these blog entries often take me places I don't intend... so I apologize beforehand if I get led down a dark alley in my brain.

The company in question was my cable TV provider, NET. They started out as a godsend, because I discovered after I moved in that I couldn't get DSL in my neighborhood and I desperately needed a broadband connection. I discovered NET could provide one, and along with a speedy, and costly, internet connection I signed up for their 'Master' TV plan which offered such goodies as BBC World, AXN, Cartoon Network, and... Fox News. Amongst others.

At first it was great. It was the fastest internet connection I had ever had, and suddenly we had English language TV too. Ruan, my stepson, quickly became addicted to the Cartoon Network and we basically let him live in front of the TV. I'm sure that if I'd had access to a channel like that at his age I wouldn't have left the television alone for five minutes either. In retrospect I believe this was a mistake, but we were in a new house and Evani was just about to have a baby so I had other things on my mind.

The TV thing was so good that we installed a second cable box so we could watch both in the living room and in the bedroom. When I restored our house, I rigged the entire place with electric sockets with cable connectors right next to them in every room. I was looking forward to the future, a future that has not arrived and I don't plan to let it. Despite the capacity for six televisions in the house, we only have two. I considered installing a TV in the dining room, but quickly decided against it. I knew it would always have been on if I didn't fight to have it turned off, and I just didn't want that much TV in my life.

After a short, blissful honeymoon, things started getting bad with the cable company. The internet connection started flaking out and disappeared from time to time. We had tech people coming to our house on a regular basis, unable to solve the problem. The calls to tech support became frequent, and some of them were nasty. I made trips to the central office here in Salvador, where I spent long periods of time waiting to talk to people who couldn't help me. That's all I'm gonna say about it.

Time went on and finally I got the call that DSL was available in the neighborhood. I cancelled the internet portion of our cable service with considerable glee. At one point I tried to switch to a satellite provider, who offered us a much better deal of more channels for less money, but the stupid building in front of our house blocked the satellite so we were stuck with NET.

Sometime during this period we discovered Lost. Evani and I don't remember this the same way, but I swear we caught the beginning of the pilot at the beginning of the first season. She thinks we came in later which is probably more accurate.

After our discovery, we didn't miss an episode. It became The Show. It was the only program I watched all week, and I went out of my way to be at home when it was on. I've heard talk about these TiVo things, and they sound nice, but they don't have them here (as far as I know) so on Monday nights at 9 PM, I was in front of the TV, watching Lost. Evani was into it as much as I was, and we always watched it together, which was fun.

As the financial belt gradually tightened and the dollar got weaker, the cable bill became more and more of a nuisance. We got rid of one of the cable boxes, which reduced our bill a little. Evani watches a lot of TV, but mostly on channels that we can receive on a cheapo rabbit ears style antenna. The person who was taking advantage of it most was Ruan, and I was trying hard to limit his TV viewing. NET was becoming a luxury we couldn't afford.

The problem was Lost. The truth was, I was maintaining the cable connection for one stupid TV show.

At the end of the third season, I downgraded the cable package to Standard, which didn't have any redeeming qualities. We didn't have AXN, which is the channel that carries Lost. We didn't have BBC World anymore, or any other English language channels. What we did have, for some reason, was a couple extra cartoon channels we hadn't had previously, which wasn't a bonus as far as I was concerned. Personally, I love cartoons, and would love to be able to watch more of them, but I don't have the time and I hate watching them dubbed in Portuguese. I don't like the voices they select for the characters and the humor doesn't translate at all. Ruan of course doesn't care about these minor technicalities.

My plan was to wait until the beginning of the new season of Lost and upgrade again- or can the subscription entirely. I had been carefully avoiding the math required to figure out how much each episode of The Show was going to cost me. I had already tried to cancel our subscription a couple times previously, but the bastards in sales always talked me out of it, and even gave me a three month, 50% off promotion which I couldn't refuse.

Finally, Evani informed me that the fourth season was about to start. In a couple days. I had to make a decision.

By this time the financial situation had gotten dire. I needed to know if I could afford the upgrade before I committed myself to another season of The Show. The NET website is horrid, and has some weirdo flash-based gizmo that is extremely confusing to navigate. It took me forever to figure out that the 'Master' plan was going to cost me over 90 reis a month, which is more than $50 a month, or more than 13 bucks per show. I couldn't justify it anymore. I finally cancelled my subscription, despite an additional 50% promotional offer for three more months.

The 4th season of Lost began with two fewer devout fans.

On Monday we lost our signal.

Yesterday they called and said they were picking up the cable box.

Today they showed up and took the box away.

And now I have one less bill to pay.