Saturday, October 25, 2008

Another One

A year or so ago, a woman moved into the annoying house next door. Nothing strange about that, people come and go from there all the time. Problem was, this one took a liking to me. A powerful liking. The kind of liking that makes you understand why Brazilians are so insanely jealous. She liked me and she let me know and she let the whole damn world know while she was at it.

There was a funny incident at my wedding where some random woman I had never seen in my life took a liking to my father, who was 75 at the time and has been very happily married for many years. She was so aggressive about trying to flirt with him, and get him to sit next to her, and I don't know what else that he tried to flee the reception. He was acutely uncomfortable. I told him to ignore her and seated him at another table with all my brothers and she finally got the picture and backed off. Before she left she even tried to make a dramatic pseudo-apology saying that she was also happily married and there was some kind of misunderstanding about her intentions. Kinda indefensible if the first thing you say about a guy is "QUE GATO!!" which means literally "what a cat" but really means "what a sexy guy" and then won't shut up about how he should be doing certain things that would force him to pay attention to her. Brazilians have an excellent expression "cara de pao," which means "face of wood" to indicate someone who is completely shameless about doing something, like telling big fat lies.

One of the 'nice' things about living here in Brazil is that I'm sometimes considered a hot prospect by the Brazilian ladies, something I was generally not considered when I lived in the states. At least that's what I've been told- I am generally completely oblivious when someone is trying to hit on me and always have been. With this neighbor obliviousness was not an option. She shamelessly and blatantly offered herself to me on several occasions despite zero encouragement from me.

This all came to a head one evening as I was walking past the bar on my street and she was sitting at one of the outdoor tables with some people and said very loudly "There goes the best looking guy on the street." I ignored her. Fortunately for me, Evani happened to witness the incident from the window, and she was loud enough that Evani heard every word. I guess she had some sense of shame because she didn't bother me after that. Or maybe she was scared of Evani. Evani has made it quite clear that she would claw the eyes out of any woman who tries to jump my bones.

The only good thing about the annoying people who move in next door is that they always move away after a couple months, reportedly because it is such an unpleasant place to live.  This particular annoying neighbor did the same thing, moving to a house on the next street over and we didn't see her around much anymore. Fine with me. Evani, who is tapped into the grapevine here on our block, occasionally tells me random things about our neighbors and/or ex-neighbors. The two items I heard about this woman, whose name I don't even know, was that she had gotten into smoking crack and prostituting herself. Oh well- plenty of that going around. This week Evani told me she was dead.

I didn't know or like the woman, but I knew who she was and I'm always shocked when I hear something like that, much more than Evani is.  Evani has seen so many people around her die that it doesn't faze her unless she really liked the person.  She sometimes accuses me of not believing things that she tells me, but the truth is that I find some of these things so hard to believe that I can't just accept them without being a bit incredulous. Blame the message, not the messenger. This is at least the fourth ex-neighbor that has died under less than natural circumstances since we moved here, and I can't even count how many have kicked off, or been kicked off, in Paripe. Another acquaintance of hers, a drinking buddy of her brothers who I met a couple times died this week as well. She told me some other guy who I never met was murdered the other day. As far as I know, no murders have happened on our street since we've lived here, although I did hear a dog get shot at five in the morning the next street over about a month ago.

When Evani told me about this woman I had to modulate my reaction, something I've learned to do with mixed success over the years in order for her not to think I don't believe her and also not to appear overly interested in what happened, to keep her from getting suspicious. The story, which did get 'confirmed' by another gossip hound on our street, is far from clear- apparently she was selling herself to sailors here in the bay (a practice detailed in the movie Cidade Baixa (Lower Citywhich takes place here in Salvador) but nobody knows if she was murdered or overdosed or what.

To conclude... how do I conclude? I already said I didn't like the woman, and I don't even know her name. She told Evani one time that she has a little girl somewhere that she is not raising; I feel badly for the kid, although she probably didn't know her mother real well. I doubt anyone here on the block is going to miss her much. I could go on and on about how awful poverty and drug addiction and prostitution are. As I have said before in this blog, everybody knows that stuff already.  But you understand it a lot better when someone says "Hey, remember that woman that lived next door? She's dead now."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Play is Hard Work and Other Assorted Novelties

I'm gonna try to make this fast, as I really should be doing other things...



Lucas got such a workout playing all day that he fell asleep right under my desk chair, with me in it. I told him he could play in the office if he left me alone to work, and he sure managed that. I noticed he was getting awful quiet and then I looked down and he had fallen asleep. Also in this photo is half of my new drawing table, which I found for sale in a second hand shop for about 20 dollars. With a fresh coat of black paint, a few shiny new washers, and a minor modification with a drill and some large nails to make it height adjustable, I'm just thrilled with it. I'd been wanting one for a long time.

Today was 'Retailer's Day' I think is the best translation... man but they have a lot of holidays here in Brazil, and in Bahia in particular. Some people have a hard time believing all the holidays we have here, especially people who are expecting work from me in the northern hemisphere... Almost all retail stores were closed today, and even the street sellers who make up the 'informal economy' didn't put out their pirated dvds or plastic toys or watches or whatnot. It made walking down the street positively pleasant, which is not how I would generally describe it.

In other news, we had our third to last graffiti class tonight- it's been fun but I'm ready for it to end. I've got to get back to Capoeira or give it up for good, and if I do that I really need to find some other form of exercise because I'm all aches and pains from sitting in front of the computer all day.

Last week we went out to do a painting in the street- the first round of the election is over, which opens up a bunch of walls for us graffiteiros again, as long as they aren't still in use for the runoff election for mayor (ie: if the wall has a 15 or a 13 on it, stay away). We walked around a bit and finally settled on this this wall, which is at the top of a small cliff. It didn't look so tough from the ground, but we discovered it was a bit more harrowing from up top. Instead of strolling out in broad daylight to paint a wall at street level which is what we normally do, we painted this at night, clinging with one arm at all times to the wall to keep from tumbling down the slope. Luckily, nobody did. The owner was really cool and gave us permission and even made us popcorn!


I realized as I was about to start that the drawing I had hastily prepared had been drawn with the perspective such that it looks as though you were viewing it from above, which was ridiculous considering that it could only be viewed from below. I tried to adjust for this, which was pretty tough considering I could not move further than 6 inches away from the wall, and therefore was viewing it from a very acute angle looking down from above. I was less than pleased with the result. The tough thing about making graffiti is that unline playing a lousy game of Capoeira, which is over when it's over and you can get over it, graffiti can stay there for literally years reminding everyone of the shitty piece you did. This is especially true here, where people generally don't paint over other's pieces. That only happens at election time. Anyhow, it looked at least mediocre to me when I went back to take this picture. I thought this guy I did on the stairs was better:


Also I had the bright idea to have an election night party on November 5th. Now I have to find someone with cable TV where we can watch the returns... and get a bunch of sympathetic US expats together...

OK I'm not going to edit this post... I'm just going to leave you with another painting of mine from the course. We all painted the same thing, but this one is definitely mine.


What the hell- I'll do one more. This is a picture Lucas took of the microwave.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Got Out And Voted

I just voted.

Just now. I just filled in my absentee ballot and sealed the envelope. Tomorrow I'll give it to the woman codenamed 'The Librarian' at the U.S. Consular Agency here in Salvador, where it will go via diplomatic pouch to Florida, where it gets dumped into the regular mail and eventually wends its way to Massachusetts.

I'm not going to be coy about it, I voted for Obama. And although I'm not as Obama crazy as some people in my family (you know who you are, family) I very very very much want him to win and for that reason am going through the hoops necessary to get this ballot off.

Not that my vote makes any difference- it makes no difference at all, except for the fact that I want to be able to say that I voted for the first African American president. Massachusetts is not a swing state by any stretch of the imagination (tonight I voted for John Kerry for senator on the same ballot fercryinoutloud) and I've used that excuse not to vote in the last couple elections- the electoral college doesn't care who I vote for. Massachusetts is a given.

I voted in this election for me, and I voted for my son. Here in Brazil, Obama would be considered 'mixed race' and not simply 'black,' because there isn't as sharp a dividing line between white and black here. Every time I look at Obama I think about my son, who has a heritage as strange and... colorful... as Obama's. White European post-hippie middle class father from New England, black Brazilian nominally catholic mother with a very humble background in the periphery of Salvador.

Anyhow, every time I write a post like this, that starts to get serious about something, that cries out for a swelling orchestral soundtrack, I end up not publishing it. So I'm not going to get all heavy and philosophical about this. I've said what I'm going to say about race and change and all that, except for one more thing: I want Obama to win because at least one thing will change, at least one barrier will be broken, and that's the world I want my son to grow up in.

All that being said, I wish the election were over already. Evani's getting sincerely bothered at my involvement in it and so am I. I'm starting to feel like McCain, all twitchy and agitated. Good luck to you, Mr. Obama, and do right by us when you get in there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beautiful Boy


I just had the strangest experience, not five minutes ago.

Lucas, who had been sleeping, woke up and half-sleepwalked into my office. I took him back to bed and read him a book and sang what was my number one bedtime song for him- 'This Old Man.' It worked, and he slept again. I laid there for a bit with his head on my chest, stroking his hair. It was very pleasant. Then I got up, and looked down at him.

I have never felt that Lucas looks much like me. That's not a bad thing, he's a beautiful kid. He's got a crazy mix of genes in there and it looks like they've combined in an extremely complimentary fashion. I always figured he would start to look more like me when he gets bigger, and develops the notorious Pfohl body type- long torso, short legs, sloping shoulders. I guess it's possible it's not in the mix, but I bet he gets it eventually.

I don't know if it was because of my stroking it, but there was a patch of his hair where the curls had loosened up and come almost completely out, so his hair was practically straight, as straight as mine. One thing Lucas does have just like me is the color of his hair- not the hair I had as a kid, which was super blond, but the dark ash-blond I've had since adolescence. So there I was, gazing in wonder at this one part of his head, which for the first time looked exactly like mine.

I think I'll go have another look.