Monday, June 30, 2008

Dad

My poor blog. It's being neglected. First it was my poor car, now it's my poor blog. Next it will be poor me and it will be time to close up shop for good.

There are several things I want to write about, the big midwinter holiday of São João that just happened, which steals the thunder of my birthday which also just happened, the improvements I just uploaded to markuza.com, etcetera. Recent street paintings and other art projects. Cute things that Lucas has done lately. But I won't talk about any of that.

What I'm going to talk about is the fact that my Dad finally has some of his artwork online, at long last! This was a project I was supposed to be involved in at one point, then a few months ago I scoured my backup discs for whatever files I might have of any of his paintings to do a throw-together page on my own site, to no avail. Then finally he told me on the phone that his wife, who maintains the exceptional Acworthian website, put together a bio with photos of him for his upcoming solo show. Here it is.

Very impressive. I learned some stuff from that article myself. I could fill in a few details, such as the fact that I am one of the two boys from the second marriage, and boy could I fill in some other details like the big lion pipe he carved which when flipped over revealed it's considerable endowment. When we were kids, we used to love to show that to our friends when they came to Dad's house to visit.

OK, enough embarrassing stories. Actually, I know my Dad well enough to know that he wouldn't be embarrassed by that at all. My father was my first and still is my most important influence artistically, no big surprise there. Last time I was in the States I told him I wanted to include some pictures of his work on my website, primarily a number of drawings he did that I used to trip out on all the time as a kid that continue to be mirrored (not copied, blast you- 'mirrored' I said (whatever that's supposed to mean)) in my own work. He also drew and painted lots of monsters, and made sculptures and mobiles and taught me from an early age that an artist need not limit themselves to a single medium.

Dad has also been my greatest fan- encouraging me from my youngest days in all my artistic endeavors. I still remember that whenever some stupid grownup asked me and my brother 'what we wanted to be when we grew up' we always gave the same answer: artists. I have moved back and forth from my role as an artist and currently I'm as active an artist as I ever have been, and my brother has made a living through his art for quite a while now.

Dad is also really into the street art that I'm doing- I believe that I mentioned in an earlier post that he was living in NYC during the big subway graffiti heyday and enjoyed it so much that he went out and painted the floor of his studio with a bunch of cans. I told him about doing silkscreening and he said he'd like to try that too.

Go Dad!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Unity

Occurring today is a much-hyped event in US presidential politics- the 'Unity' event with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Although I've been following it closely, I haven't been writing about the election in this blog- it's outside of the vaguely conceived scope I have set up for it. The only reason I mention it now is because Unity, New Hampshire just happens to be right next to the tiny town where my dad lives, and he and several other members of the family have volunteered to help work the event. Wish I was there! I asked him to take photos...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Onibus

Well, the car has finally crapped out, at least for the time being, and I did something on Wednesday that I haven't done in a long time: I took the bus. Here's the funny thing- I actually enjoyed it.

I think I enjoyed it because it brought back fond memories of time spent on public transit- I did a lot of reading and learned a lot of Portuguese riding the subway in New York. First I listened to the Pimsleur starter series of CD's, skipping the 'repeat out loud' part, and then I made hundreds of little flashcards to teach myself vocabulary and verbs. It was mellow time when I could just relax and work my brain a bit. A big part of the 'relaxing' bit is that I never rode the subway at rush hour.

I think the nostalgia had a chance to take hold on my Brazilian bus ride because of what it was not- although I have also done my share of reading and studying Portuguese on Brazilian buses, I have also spent a lot of time clinging to handholds for dear life, wedging my way through solid masses of human bodies, spent an hour or more on foot breathing muggy slimy thrice-breathed air as it pours rain outside, wasted more hours waiting at bus stops for buses that doesn't seem interested in arriving. None of these things occurred on Wednesday. I waited not five minutes for the bus to arrive, it was mostly empty, the busdriver was not insane, and the trip went remarkably quickly. Too quickly in fact, I wanted a little more time to read.

Today, with a verdict of 'blown head gasket' for the car, I took to the bus once more, this time with Lucas, and our destination was the Capoeira Roda. Once again- short wait, lots of empty seats, the busdriver was only mildly psychotic this time. 'Mildly psychotic' means you want to be holding onto something with both hands when you are on foot and generally one hand when you are sitting down. 'Majorly psychotic' means you need to hold on with both hands even when seated, don't dwell on the speed and proximity of things passing by the windows, and perhaps pray if you are so inclined. Lucas and I had fun together on the bus, playing little three year old games (lately he's been either Spiderman and I'm a Power Ranger) and we got there quickly. Unfortunately, the roda was cancelled, which meant we got back on the bus to go home.

On the way back I got more of a taste of why I was so happy to start driving my own car and stop riding the buses: a group of drunk young men being stupid and loud and annoying. Inane, pointless banter, trite slang and general bullshit all at a volume clearly intended to attract the attention of everyone on the bus, which of course it did. I refused to look at them but everyone else did. I let forth a stream of invective of the kind I would prefer Lucas does not hear (but is already peppering his vocabulary) when we got off.

As I contemplate taking the bus on a more regular basis, at least to get to and from Capoeira, there is a dark cloud that hangs over the whole plan. I've never been on a bus that has been robbed (knock on wood) but it happens all the time here. Someone pointed out to me once this place that hijacked buses go so the driver and cobrador (money collector) can presumably fill out incident reports, and there was almost always a bus there when I went by in the evening. Sometimes there were two, or even three. Everyone I know has stories about bus holdups, although often second- or third-hand. These holdups almost never end violently (I'm pretty sure), but you'll get your cell phone taken and of course any cash. Not to mention laptops or digital cameras if you're fool enough to take one of them along. I don't want to be on a bus that gets held up.

There was actually an amusing story on the news the other day about some guy who robbed a bus and then the cobrador and a bunch of passengers went after him and actually chased him down. Evani told me that the cobrador has to pay if the bus gets ripped off, which is probably why he went after the guy. What kind of ludicrous nonsense is that? The employee of the bus company is held responsible for the hijacking and gets his pay docked? What's he supposed to do- refuse entry to potential criminals? I can't stand it when I hear stuff like that, and I wish it didn't happen as often as it does. There is no sense here that businesses should absorb the errors of their employees, or in this case, the non-errors of the employees. It's unloading a loss that should be written off by the company onto some poor dude who is making almost nothing and it should be illegal.

Suddenly methinks that I should get some kind of verification of whether that is actually true before I keep ranting about it. Who says the blogosphere is rife with rumors?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Zines and Quadrilha

Sunday is not a street art day, it's a hung-over day and also Father's Day but not here in Brazil...

But Saturday was interesting. I spent the morning trying to distract Lucas so I could finish an email interview. Some guy found me on Flickr and told me he had been seeing and enjoying my street art here in the city. He told me he was working on a zine, and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed for the first issue. I said yeah, sure, why not, of course! I thought we'd do an interview in person, but he asked if we could do it over MSN or by email. I chose email. I got a list of questions on Friday and he told me he plans to get the thing finished by Monday- pretty crazy schedule!

I think he's a student and I don't have real high expectations but nonetheless it's pretty cool to be recognized so I took the time to answer his questions as carefully as I could in my abominable written Portuguese. The questions were pretty straight forward- from where did the name Markuza come from and where am I from to how do you make your art and what kind of message are you trying to get across. We'll see how it comes out!

I got the interview/questionnaire out just in time to get Lucas ready for his São João presentation at school. São João is the big winter holiday here in the Northeast of Brazil, and it deserves more attention than I'm going to give it in this post. It's a celebration of the rural traditions of the Northeast, and is celebrated by making bonfires, drinking fruit liquors, eating peanuts, and dancing Forro. Forro is a type of music featuring, in its simplest form, an accordion, a triangle, and a very shallow drum played on both sides of the skin. São João is celebrated on June 24 (the day before my birthday) and lots of parties and events happen in the weeks leading up to it.

Evani decided to go to a birthday party for her sister rather than attend the event at Lucas' school, which left me to get him there, film the thing, applaud, and tell him he did great, which I did. It was a pretty typical kid/school/stage thing, lots of parents with cameras and lots of kids standing around in varying degrees of participation looking cute. Lucas did much better this year than last, he and his friend Henri did 'the saw' vigorously and Henri came perilously close to sawing his way right off the stage. You can check out the whole thing here if you are so inclined. Lucas was very serious about the whole thing and didn't really seem to enjoy himself until he got to jump on the trampoline. He's gotten quite good at that trampoline thing.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Viva Santo Antonio!

Today I was awakened by fireworks at 6 AM. Lots of them. They were celebrating O Dia de Santo Antonio, or the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. Santo Antonio is a big deal here. He is a Portuguese saint, and he is also syncretized with the Candomblé Orixa Ogum. Ogum is a warrior, a protector, the god of iron and tools amongst other things. In Rio Ogum is syncretized with São George, who in Bahia is Oxossi, the hunter.

Santo Antonio is Evani's patron saint, and her mother's before her. We have a carved wooden figurine of him on a little shelf/shrine in our upstairs hall. In his saintly guise he is portrayed holding a baby. As an Orixa, he is portrayed with a sword, or a machete.

In the houses of Candomblé that worship Ogum here in the city they have prayers to him for up to thirteen nights- from the 1st of the month until tonight. Generally Evani 'sponsors' one of these nights, but this year we were unable to do that. However, we will be heading to Paripe tonight in order to participate.

Viva Santo Antonio!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Poor Car

Last night, I went to open the trunk of my car, and I couldn't.

I did a lot of jiggling of the key because for some time now I've been the only one who can open it, but I knew just where that secret sweet spot was that popped it open. That sweet spot seems to be gone now.

Add this to a long and growing list of things that no longer work on my car. Last week I finally discovered why my rear speakers were making a nasty buzzing noise- the polypropylene cones had dissolved into little flakes of plastic, this despite being only a couple years old. I blame that one on the brutal UV rays of the tropical sun, which have baked the paint off the hood and caused the fabric on Lucas' child seat to similarly break down.

The other things that used to work but no longer do include:
  • The air conditioning
  • The alarm
  • The automatic door locks
  • The driver's side door lock- still locks, but doesn't unlock
  • The bolt at the bottom of the oil pan that lets the dirty oil out
  • The rear wiper
  • The waterproof qualities of the body
  • The left rear running light
  • The hubcaps
Actually, that last one isn't true. The hubcaps are just gone- a couple broken, a couple stolen. Some of these are simple fixes, like the busted light bulb, and I actually tried to fix it once but they sold me the wrong bulb. The thing is, I may never get around to fixing it because I have no real incentive to do so. Cars here are not inspected, except nominally (ironically, for exactly things like this- lights, directionals, not mechanical things like brakes or anything) when you first put the plates on them. I will never be pulled over on the highway by a cop- not for speeding, not for missing safety equipment, not for throwing beer cans out the window. I've seen trucks, even buses, driving at night with no lights at all. I once saw a guy driving a motorcycle in the heart of the city with an open beer in his hand. The only way you get stopped here is when they do 'blitzes,' which is mostly a check for weapons that they perform from time to time. I did get stopped, and fined, at one of these once- my registration had lapsed (you do need to register your car) and they wanted to impound my car. It was the day of Lucas' first birthday party and I had bags of ice melting in my now unopenable trunk and I begged for mercy. First birthday parties being an extremely big deal here, I think that's probably why they took pity on me.

On the positive side, none of the car's essential systems are broken. My tires and brakes are good. I figure you need decent tires and brakes on your car or you're an irresponsible idiot. The rest... well, I want to fix it, I just can't afford to right now. Actually, I'd love to get a nicer, newer car (and I know a certain spouse who wishes I'd do the same) but that is out of the question. The funny thing is, with the exception of the trunk problem and the rear speakers, this is still the nicest, lowest-mileage car I've ever owned. It's got power windows and steering. It's got four doors. It's got a CD player. It's just that it kinda stinks of mildew in the winter and... it's gradually dying.

The further irony of this car is that I don't really need it. I live right in the heart of the city, and I can, and do, walk to almost everything I need to on a day to day basis. I really only use it to go to the supermarket, to get to Capoeira, and to go to Paripe. I sometimes drive it only once or twice a week. If it died tomorrow it really wouldn't be the end of the world, although I would be unhappy. Public transportation is pretty reliable here, but I can't stand riding on buses because half of the bus drivers are insane. I'd be tempted to ride a bike but the streets are just too crazy for that.

So here's hoping the next time I try to open that trunk it decides to cooperate.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Mass Production


When I was about 10, my future brother in law taught me and my brother how to silkscreen. We hand-cut designs with exacto knives into a sheet of emulsion, which he then transferred to a screen and we printed some shirts and a bunch of stationary. I still have some of that stationary somewhere- I was big into dungeons and dragons at the time and I copied an image of some monster from one of the various books we had related to it.

Later, when I was in high school, I took courses in graphic arts and became quite interested in it. That was so long ago (says I, my joints creaking as I write) that we even learned to set type- a skill that has been relegated to the realm of phones with dials on them and such (apologies to my dad, who picked up a bunch of job cases and assorted paraphernalia probably for nothing when their previous owner decided they were a waste of space, and heavy too). I even got a job in the print shop my senior year, running an offset press. And I did silkscreening too. I'm pretty sure I still have a multi-color shirt I printed in a drawer somewhere.

Then, about 12 years ago, I decided that I would get into making my own t-shirts. I had some professionally printed and still have a bunch of them stored in my dad's attic. I didn't get very far with the marketing part of the plan. At one point I planned to get into screening shirts commercially, and someone I knew even gave me a full set of used equipment including dozens of screens and a screen exposure unit to get me started. I never got around to it, and eventually sold it all on ebay.

Now, today, here, at my house, with a nominal investment, I put squeegee to screen once more to make a run of home-made stickers. How exhiliratin'!

It was pretty fun, actually, but I'm glad that I took my Murphy's Law pill before I started in case (that is, when) something went wrong. After all, a lot of time has passed since I last screened anything, and what little I read in some online tutorials was helpful, but by no means going to solve all my problems. It went pretty well actually, and now I have hundreds of stickers to plaster up all over the city and give away and get me psyched up to do other projects!

The thing that appeals to me about mass-production is this: I'm basically a lazy guy, and it's just too much freakin' work to make individual stickers by hand and go out and put them up. With silkscreening, or xeroxing, or etching or woodcutting or photography or whatever you make the image once, and then whip off several or many dozens in the matter of an hour or two. All of which can be wheatpasted, or stuck, or framed, or maybe, in some future world, sold over and over again.

The other thing is it really bums me out to see my handmade stickers ripped down or covered over by some city worker or stupid fortune teller's fliers. That being said, I know it's part of the whole street art thing ('ephemeral' they call it) and I do hope I keep making the hand-made ones if for no other reason that I've come up with lots of good ideas in the process of doing them.

Posted below are some pictures of my morning's industry, for those who enjoy that kind of thing.


The workspace, with everything I needed to make a couple hundred stickers- sheets of adhesive vinyl, ink, squeegee, screen, and the most important item- cup of coffee.


The screen, ready to go with the ink across the top!


The first sheet of stickers. I had problems with blank spots, and also with some over-inking.


The sheets pile up in short order.


The finished product, after cutting, which is turning out to be the most time-consuming step. You might recognize this photo from the beginning of the post... Our friend Nelson said that the eyes (which I did in about 10 minutes before I ran to get the screen developed- it's actually one eye flipped over in photoshop to make two) remind him of Oju Oba, or 'Eyes of Xango', a symbol of one of the Orixas.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How Does He Do That??


This child

is fast

asleep.

Monday, June 2, 2008

RNE

Today marks the end of a long chapter of my life in Brazil, and the beginning of a new one...

A momentous occasion...

A new dawn, a new beginning...

Alright, enough with the drama. What did happen today is that I finally, FINALLY received my Cedula de Identidade de Estrangeiro, my Brazilian ID, the Brazilian version of the Green Card. I am now a card-carrying permanent resident of Brazil.

RNE refers to my ID number, which I actually received over a year ago, printed out on a little piece of paper. That was just in time to get a Brazilian driver's license to replace my New York one. They told me it might take as long as a year to get the actual card, and here it is, a year later and I have the card in hand. I have no idea how long it was sitting at the airport waiting for me to pick it up. The date of expedição printed on it, which is presumably when it was issued, was back in October. I haven't been too concerned about getting the thing these last few months- after all, I had a picture ID with my RNE on it already- my license.

What I can finally do now is go out and open a bank account. This in fact was the reason I finally called to see if the thing had arrived- I got cold-called by a bank to see if I wanted to open an account. I told them I didn't have an ID yet, in a lame attempt to scare them off, but eventually I decided to go ahead and open the account anyways, especially because the bank came highly recommended. I figure it's about time, although I'm not entirely sure how useful a bank account is going to be to me right now. I'll figure it out.

The card itself is a bit of an anti-climax, although I'm not sure what I expected. I guess because all official US documents, including money, tend to be drab and uninteresting I thought the id would be all colorful and with cool pictures on it, kinda like Brazilian money. No such luck. It's just white with an orange line drawing in the background that looks like the map of brazil ramping up to light speed. It's got a bunch of holographic seals of the Policia Federal badge which looks like any old sheriff's badge. On top of that, it doesn't even look new- I received it already warped as if someone had bitten and twisted it but was probably caused by a long-affixed paper clip.

It's got my name, my parent's names, a little picture of me with my hair pulled tightly back so you can't tell it actually went half way down my back. This picture has a miniature twin to the right of it with someone's initials right across my face. It also has my right thumb print on it.

What is most amusing is that it has the date I started the whole process of getting the thing printed on it: March 19, 2004. More than four years ago. Lucas hadn't been born- he hadn't even been conceived. If I remember correctly, we got the ball rolling on the ID shortly before my visa was to expire and we decided to get married.

I figure that most people don't have to wait four years for their ID's, they either know someone or they don't live in Bahia or they work something else out, know what I mean? I was dying to work something else out, and I even got a lawyer involved at one point but about the best he could do was finally arrange our home visit by the Policia Federal to check the legitimacy of the marriage. By that time we had our proof toddling around the house.

So now I'm legit. Funny, I don't feel so different. It was much stranger having my US driver's license expire.