Sunday, May 31, 2009

Baixa Fria

I've been wondering lately if I had a story worthy of The Moth (if you've never heard the podcast, check it out) and as of today I think I finally do.

My story would start like this: I would tell about the time our car broke down on the side of the highway after dark here in Salvador. Although well within the city limits, there is no lighting along the stretch of road where we got stuck. My primary concern was someone smashing into our car there on the shoulder of the highway, but Evani was much more concerned about someone coming out of the favela right next door and walking off with everything we had. Apparently she wasn't the only person concerned about that, because out of the same favela came a young guy who tried to help get my car going, and when we couldn't, he stayed with us until the tow truck showed up. I told him he could leave if he wanted, and he refused. I offered him money (at Evani's suggestion) and he refused that too. In the excitement of the ramp truck arriving and us getting out of there I totally forgot this guardian angel, and it wasn't until we had left the scene far behind us that I remembered I had forgotten to thank him.

I'm pretty sure I know what was going through his mind: stupid @#$% rich gringo jerk, all friendly in a time of need, and then once the cavalry arrives the Upright Citizen is forgotten.

I really didn't want to be remembered that way- I'm not that way. Well, mostly not, anyways. But I was determined to correct my error. At Evani's suggestion, I bought a little dress for his baby girl and drove back to the scene of the crime to leave it for him. Since I had no idea how to get to where he lived by the regular roads, I got on the highway and stopped at exactly the same spot, this time during the day, and clambered down the embankment into the favela to give him the gift. Luckily, he was there, working on a car, so I was able to thank him in person. I was extremely glad about that. I'd written him a note and included our address and phone number, telling him to look me up so we could get a beer or something some day. He never did, but at least I felt better about myself. I mean, how many people would go through all that effort just to thank somebody? I like to think not many.

So back to my Moth story: after recounting the car incident, I would talk about how I got into doing graffiti here in Brazil, and how these Multirão events happen here in Salvador from time to time. We had one just this weekend, in a neighborhood called São Caetano. The directions to get there were fairly straightforward, but it was a pretty long drive into an area I really don't know that well. I went out there with my friend Sins and from the end of the line in São Caetano we went even further, into a sub-neighborhood called Baixa Fria, which literally means 'Cold Low.' Like all of these events, it was situated in the middle of a favela.

I sometimes forget just how big Salvador is- it's creeping up on three million people if I'm not mistaken. One of the neighborhoods is supposedly the biggest in all of South America- that is, if you can call it a single neigthborhood: it's broken up into eleven numbered chunks. You can see the Favelas from the highway (or you can live in them, I've done that too), but when you get into them you realize just how many people live there. Most of them, obviously, are very poor. And in Salvador, most of them are black. I must confess that the thought of driving through parts of the Bronx or Brooklyn bothers me much more than driving through the favelas, at least during the day. I've never felt threatened and I've certainly never had any racial epithets tossed in my direction, except for the occasional 'Gringo,' which doesn't really qualify. I can't say the same for the less than two years I lived in Brooklyn- although I must confess I didn't get much abuse when I lived there either.

Anyways, back to my story. Actually, if this was a Moth story I was telling, I'd probably say that and more as background on Brazil. So there I was, in the favela, painting away, and there's this busy road behind me. I asked someone who was watching what the road was, and they said it was 'The BR.'

On the East Coast of the US, highways are just referred to by their numbers: "Get on 91 going south until you get to..." etc. In California, I was surprised to discover that highways are referred to as the number: "Get on the 5 going north until you..." I'm now convinced this is because of the latin influence in the region: we do the same thing in Portuguese. I was surprised to discover that individuals are referred to in the same way: someone might call me 'The Mark,' or more likely 'The Markie.' And similarly to the way we plunk an 'I' in front of our highway numbers, here they put a 'BR' in front for their interstate highways. Really these guys were referring to 'BR324,' which is the main road in and out of Salvador, but since it's the only highway in the city, it is simply referred to as 'The BR.' By everyone.

If you're paying attention you should be getting a glimmer of where this story is going. When I found out that this road was the BR, I suddenly recognized where I was. I had been here before. I was just one street over from where I had met my Guardian Angel from the night our car broke down; I was looking right at the bank I had clambered down, right up there was where my car had died. Totally by chance, I'd found the route to his house that didn't involve parking on the freeway.

I asked someone if there was a guy around there who fixed cars. I was told yes. I asked if he might be around, it being Sunday. I was also told yes, and the person who informed me offered to check, which is what I was hoping for. I may drive around the favelas without undue concern but I don't walk around them, at least not ones I'm not familiar with (and more importantly, are not familiar with me) by myself.

Suddenly there he was- the guy! I realize now I should have had someone take our picture. We smiled a lot and I asked how his little girl was and he told me she's fine, and there's a boy on the way. I thanked him again and told some other people how he'd saved our asses out there on the highway that night. One of his neighbors, who was organizing the Multirão, agreed. She said if he hadn't shown up, we would have been left with nothing.

So that's my Moth story. The Multirão was fun too, one of the better ones I've attended, and my painting turned out okay, but not great. Turns out you can see it from the BR. I forgot my camera this time, but Sins took a picture, so here it is. Sins painted the flower.


jesse said...

when did this true story occur? i'm glad everything worked out. you did the right thing to go back and thank this nice guy. i agree that this is one, of many, stories worthy of inclusion by other sites/magazines/etc. when are you coming to the states? please e-mail me a reminder. peace, jesse

markuza said...

The car died on the highway about two years ago, the graffiti event was just last weekend.