Thursday, November 26, 2009

Just Another Thursday

Here it is, Thursday, end of November, and I keep having to remind myself that somewhere else in the world it's a big holiday.

It's kinda funny actually, because the first Thanksgiving that I missed out on was because of a Capoeira workshop I went to in Montreal, one of my first major brushes with Brazilian culture. Ultimately it was Capoeira that brought me to Brazil, and, as they say, the rest is history.

Capoeira's gone, I stayed, and still I miss Thanksgiving. I've tried to improvise a feast here a couple times, but I can't get real excited about a turkey that's got MSG injected under the skin, and there are no other varieties available, at least not that I've been able to track down. Not to mention the complete lack of cranberry anything, and you can't get a bag of stuffing at the supermarket. If I was a more inspired cook I'm sure I could get something together, but this year I'm stressed out and I've got a nasty cold, so since I'm the only one who cares, I'm just gonna let it slide.

But I do have to keep reminding myself, so I remember to call my family later on. Last year I called them all at one of my brother's houses who actually has broadband, and Skype, so I was treated to all of them on my computer screen at once, staring at me expectantly as I sat there with a stupid grin and tried to contain Lucas who was going wild in the background. I believe this year there are all in a broadband-less house, which is a relief, as it means I don't have to endure another edition of the Mark Pfohl Show.

Cough, cough- Evani says we are singing a duet, or I am her echo, as we both have these dry, hacking coughs. By some miracle, we are sick and the kids are not, a miracle I'm not sure is going to last. We are both on the mend which is always so nice- you never realize how pleasant it is to not cough all the time unless you've spent the last week coughing all the time.

The first year I spent here in Brazil I had one cold after another for almost the entire time. Between that, and the nearly constant intestinal battle I fought with the South American microbes, it's amazing I stayed. Actually, no matter how you cut it it's amazing I stayed, but here I am! Still! Missing countless holidays and snowfalls and whatnot. And now my body has thoroughly adjusted, so I have gone back to getting sick extremely rarely, and the food doesn't backfire on me.

I'm thankful for that- my health. And the family is healthy, beyond this cold, I'm thankful for that too. And we went to the supermarket today and bought a ton of food, even if we didn't make a huge meal. I'm thankful for that too.

I have a lot to be thankful for.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nzinga Meets Lula

Looks like I quit training Capoeira a year too early- I found out today that my old group, Grupo Nzinga de Capoeira Angola, is going to be doing a demo tomorrow for the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Wow!

Grupo Nzinga is not a large group, at least not here in Salvador, but they are very well connected. At the last roda I attended (but didn't play in), Angela Davis showed up.

I'm only mildly disappointed I won't be in attendance tomorrow. As time goes by, I find that I don't miss training capoeira very much. I generally only have saudades if I see a roda. I really liked Grupo Nzinga, and if I was to start training again (who knows, right?) I would definitely return to them.

I made a funny realization a month or so ago. I heard a This American Life story about 'frenemies' and found it immensely entertaining- I had never heard the term before. I like this definition, taken from the Urban Dictionary:
The type of "friend" whose words or actions bring you down.(whether you realize it as intentional or not) The type of friend you ought to cut off but don't cuz...they're nice... good've had good times with them. U know...they're good people that you can count on to bring you down again sometime in the near future.The friend you may or may not have cornered about their quicksand like ways and keep around because "its in the past"...and so was one minute ago. The person that will continue to bring you down until you demand better for yourself.
It made me start thinking about the frenemies in my own life, of which there are quite a few (me being something of a misanthrope myself). I realized that there were more than a few that were people I knew from Capoeira. And then I made the realization that Capoeira itself is one of my frenemies. Although I love parts of it, there have always been aspects of it that enrage me, and it hasn't gotten better over time. I've trained with a number of groups, and every group has its quirks, but Grupo Nzinga was the best of the bunch, at least that I'd encountered. But I was not enjoying it consistently enough to make it worth while. On top of that, I couldn't give it the time required to play well and not kill myself, and also the time that the group itself deserves of a participant. What started as a temporary break has now extended to over a year.

But I wish them all the best at their event tomorrow.

Parabens! E muito Axé!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Civic Duty

I'm going to try to rewrite/finish a post I started a couple weeks ago. Although I find it easy to write stories about things that happen to me, It's more difficult for me to write stuff that touches on controversial issues- I write something, I'm not sure it's what I want to say, I decide to come back to it, I don't come back to it. Well, I'm going to try to come back to this one.

The following happened on my way home from doing these paintings. I wrote:

On my way home, I did my civic duty. What was my civic duty? Let me show you as they say a picture is worth a thousand words.



There has been a plague of swastikas here in Salvador. I hate hate hate swastikas and I am deeply offended that people are shoving them into my face. According to this blog post (in Portuguese) they are the result of a labor dispute between Basf, which is the largest chemical company in the world (according to Wikipedia), and a labor union. The rankled union is apparently hiring people to go out and paint these things. It says 'Basf, don't forget your past.'

At about this point in writing my post, I decided that I should find out exactly what Basf's ties were to Nazi Germany. So I did some googling. According to Wikipedia, which as we all know is not always the most reliable source of information in the world, they helped found a company called IG Farben, which, I was horrified to discover, used slave labor and produced and even held the patent for Zyklon-B, a poison gas used in gas chambers.

That's horrible. Ghastly. Who would want to do business with a company after finding that out?

As I kept googling and kept reading, I became so demoralized by my detour into the evil past that I couldn't publish my post. I began to wonder if I was wrong to have painted over the swastika- maybe these people are doing the right thing by exposing this company for what it really is.

But here's the thing: this labor dispute that's going on? If the blog post I cited earlier is right, it has absolutely nothing to do with the company's ties to Nazi Germany. They don't want to expose the company's evil past for the greater good. They're not looking for a boycott of the company, or for them to make a public apology or anything like that. All they want is leverage in their negotiations with the company, which presumably aren't going so well. It's like the union, for lack of better ammunition, has been reduced to name calling. Really nasty name calling.

And the other thing is: now that I know this, what can or should I do about it? I can't exactly boycott the company- as the biggest chemical company in the world, they probably have a hand in making pretty much everything. It would be like trying to boycott products made in China. And I did a little more research. One of the other co-founders of IG Farben? Bayer. Yeah, like the aspirin. Another? Agfa, which made some of my favorite photo papers when I was in college. A couple other names that came up were DuPont and Standard Oil. Should I now boycott all these companies? Could I boycott all these companies?

And another thing: Volkswagen is huge here in Brazil. You see their cars all over the roads, and they are a huge employer in this country. Didn't they get their start in Nazi Germany? I don't see any swastikas being painted about them.

For the record, IG Farben was dissolved after World War II.

I have a brother who loves conspiracy theories. I tend to think he's a little nuts when he starts ranting and raving about things, but for me the truth is this: you don't need to believe in conspiracy theories to discover that the world is a really fucked up place. You don't even have to scratch the surface very hard to find really ugly stuff right in front of your face.

I googled 'ig farben nazi' which came up with 'about 105,000' hits. Check this out:

Hit number four: IG Farben/Nazi Coalition Founded the "Brussels EU"

And hit number five: How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power

Conspiracy theories or reality? I don't know. I stopped looking. When I start going down one of these dark paths online I have to pull myself up short quickly or I get very depressed and I can't sleep.

Well, if whoever is painting those swastikas wanted someone like me to find out about Basf's ugly past, they were successful. Have they successfully embarrassed Basf and shaken hands on whatever deal they were after? I have no idea.

I painted over two swastikas, and was prepared to paint over a third, but someone beat me to it. Luckily I'm not the only one trying to rid the city of this plague. After some momentary self-doubt, I now believe I did the right thing.

By the way, did I mention that the painting of swastikas is illegal here in Brazil? According to this article published by the Globo news conglomerate:

A fabricação, comercialização, distribuição e exibição de símbolos nazistas são crime federal. A pena prevista varia de dois a cinco anos de prisão.

Or, in English, "the creation, marketing, distribution and exhibition of nazi symbols are federal crimes, punishable from between two and five years in prison."

If I see any more, I'll paint over them too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Monday is a Pleasant Painting Day

Yesterday was a holiday here in Brazil- Dia de Finados, or Day of the Dead. It doesn't bear any resemblance to the Mexican Day of the Dead, but then again, not much of Brazilian culture resembles Mexican culture in any way. I had the day to myself, so I took advantage and went out painting.

Back in June or thereabouts I marked a wall to paint on in the neighborhood of Rio Vermelho, on a sidestreet that is an access route to a neat little beach called the Praia do Buracão. This is a pretty common practice here- for graffiteiros to mark a wall, sometimes with nothing more than their name and a straight line, so they can come back and paint it later. Amazingly, this is almost universally respected and the odds of having someone steal your spot are practically nonexistent. Sure enough, five months after 'claiming' my spot, it was exactly as I had left it. But what was really amazing is that most of the rest of the wall was still untouched.

Due to a nasty attack of insomnia on Sunday night I got a very late start, so I hustled down there to try to get something done before dark. I slopped on some suntan lotion in the car, but it turned out I didn't need it- the wall was completely shaded. Even better, I scored a parking space right in front of my spot, so I was able to listen to my sound system as I worked. I don't generally like to use headphones when I'm painting, they make me just a little too oblivious to what is going on around me. I started painting and I decided to paint quickly, and not be a perfectionist, and be relaxed and have fun and then be on my way. Which is exactly what I did.

Here's the result:

I found out last week that the wall I painted with the two cars got knocked down in the name of progress, so here are two of the critters from one of the cars, I think Salvador will be seeing more of them. And I had been wanting to combine the 'future contraptions' stuff I've been drawing and painting with the monsters, this was my first attempt at that. The painting is not perfect, but it's usually better for me to relax and not try for perfection: I never achieve it and I just get all stressed out.

It was a very pleasant and satisfying experience, and I finished the whole thing in about two hours. I had a few people hang out and watch me for quite a while. Being on the main route to the Buracão beach, lots of people walked by and generally responded favorably to what I was doing. Several people wanted me to let them try painting something, a tag or whatever, which was annoying. One guy went as far as to start grabbing at my cans to try them out and I had to tell him to cut it out. Another woman I discouraged simply by telling her that the cans cost 'a fortune,' which is true.

Wanting to finish off a can of paint so I didn't have to lug it home I painted these guys next to my larger painting:

I've been doing a number of these guys but I'm already getting kind of bored of them. They generally appear in sets of threes, and I call them interlopers.

Then, on my way home, I did my civic duty. I was going to write about it here, but it made the post take such a radical change in tone that I've decided to split off that part and publish it in a separate post.

So I'll leave you with this last picture and a final thought:

As you can see, I have effectively reserved another portion of the wall with my interlopers. And there's more blank wall below my painting. And you can't see it but there's more above it as well. I'm thinking I could just keep going with this, and end up with 50+ yards of wall, all painted by me. Which would be super cool, a real milestone. It doesn't even take that much paint to do these squiggly lines and skinny little monsters. I think I won't wait five months to go back to this spot.