Sunday, April 4, 2010


After months of failed attempts, we finally got away for the weekend. All four of us, which never happens. We went to Arembepe, a small city about an hour's drive north of here that has something of a storied history because of its origins as a hippie colony. Or maybe it just attracted a lot of hippies during the sixties. At any rate Janis Joplin visited back in the day and there are still hippies to be found in the neighborhood.

This trip actually happened as a byproduct of another event- a big festival that they had there a couple weeks ago, a kind of mini-Carnaval that they put on, complete with trios electricos and big famous acts from the booming metropolis that is Salvador. Evani and her good friend Silvia split the price on an apartment rental so they could go. The bonus for us was that the rental was for an entire month.

As we got out of the city, I felt the usual sense of wonder I experience when I realize that there is more to the world than downtown Salvador and then the usual sense of bewilderment that I almost never manage to get out of the city. Especially considering I have a car. Then I remember that the car is dying and I have no money for vacations, which is why I am generally confined to the aforementioned downtown. The less I move around, the less it costs me. I was very much enjoying the idea that this was a trip that I wasn't footing the bill for, outside of the gas in the car and some groceries.

When we got there it was after dark on Thursday. Brazil being a Catholic country, we had a four day weekend because of the Easter holiday. The apartment was in a great location, just off of downtown, with a view of the ocean off one side of the building. Arembepe's downtown is much more low-key than our own downtown, and it was quiet and mellow, and cool with a sea breeze, no bugs. The apartment has two bedrooms and a big balcony where we could all sit. All of this for R$500 for the whole month, or about $280 US. Not bad, I thought, already fantasizing about trying to stay there for a whole month next year. But, I also thought, let's wait and see what tomorrow looks like.

I've either gotten smarter or more cynical in the years I've spent here in Brazil. The Portuguese term for this is esperto, and in the judgement of many if not most Bahians (possibly Brazilians in general), foreigners are not esperto. On the contrary, they are presumed to be idiots, which means by extension that I am generally presumed to be an idiot, which contributes to my tendencies towards bitterness and misanthropy. I pride myself on possessing a tiny grain of esperteza, something I've cultivated the hard way over the years as you may know if you follow this blog regularly.

Things started going south before we hit the sack that first night. We'd brought an inflatable mattress to sleep on, because the mattresses in the apartment were quite horrible to look at, and presumably worse to sleep on. I inflated the mattress, and we put some sheets on it, and about a half hour later it had significantly deflated. It clearly had a hole in it. I went instantly from tranquil to furious, because although the mattress had been fine the last time we'd slept on it, it had passed through the hands of some other people, who were obviously the ones responsible for popping the thing. This unfortunately was not my first experience along these lines. The predecessor to this mattress had been hung out to dry by someone who didn't know better on a strand of barbed wire. This works fine for clothing, which is usually made from cloth, which generally doesn't pop, but is a really bad and stupid idea for something made of thin plastic that relies on the integrity and non-perforation of its surfaces in order to function properly. And they think foreigners are bozos! Nevertheless, here I was with another popped mattress. Maybe I'm not as esperto as I thought. Well, you can be sure I won't be buying a third.

Then Evani asked me if I'd brought an extension cord for the fans I'd brought with us. I said I hadn't, as she hadn't mentioned we might be needing one. Turns out we did, as neither of the bedrooms had any sockets in them. Not a single one. In fact, the whole place had only two electrical sockets- one in the kitchen, and one in the living room. Hold on, that's not true- there was another strange tiled room just off the other bedroom, like a big walk-in closet without a door, that had about six. We figured this must have been a kitchen at one time in a different incarnation of the house.

Evani and I ended up curled up on a single mattress, which didn't look so bad once it was covered with a sheet, and was definitely preferable to sleeping on the floor. It wasn't too bad, and I was actually sleeping pretty well until it started to rain.

While all you North-American types are gearing up for the nicer part of the year, we are turning the corner into the nastier part. That means wet. And wet here can mean an inch of rain in ten minutes, or multiples thereof in thirty or forty. With that much rain, you need serious roofing or you and everything you own gets wet too. Here in Bahia roofing materials usually consist of asbestos-laced panels, occasional metal roofing, and the classic and lovely clay tiles. These are wonderful to look at, but often rather porous, as they consist of cupped sections that are generally fitted without mortar with lots of ensuing gaps. Add this to the fact that they can slide around in high winds, or cracked, or installed poorly, and a serious rainstorm outside means a gentle shower inside. This can be countered by putting a ceiling between your roof and living space to catch the drips and spray, but our rental didn't have one. So we got wet.

In addition to the roof, our wonderful ocean-facing window suddenly started spouting water all around the edges. This was due to the strong wind that was blowing the rain into that side of the house, and right though the gaps around the pane.

Luckily it didn't rain too hard that first night.

The next morning two of Evani's sisters arrived, with a daughter and her middle-aged cousin, who is known as the Muda, which means mute, even though she's actually deaf. She's also known as Belisco which means 'pinch' but I don't know the story behind that. We spent the day on the beach, which was not even a two minute walk from the house, and is a perfect for kids because it is sheltered from the open ocean by a big chunk of dead coral. There was some question as to whether Belisco had ever been to the beach before, a question that couldn't be satisfactorily resolved as her language is her own. She has her own sign language that she developed in collaboration with the rest of the family, and she cannot read or write. This makes conversation pretty limited, although I give it my best. This time I didn't bother to try, I had no idea of how to gesticulate 'have you ever been' or 'your first time.'

I've often wondered what kind of conversations Belisco has with herself in her head. What her 'words' for things are like. It is also apparent that Belisco is not entirely deaf; if something is sufficiently thunderous, like one of the larger homemade M80's, she can hear it. I figure that means that if she had a hearing aid she could hear a lot more. I can't imagine what that would be like for her.

We played in the water all day and drank wine and ate fish- traditional Good Friday fare here in Brazil. I spent way too long trying to patch up our inflatable mattress, which was imperative as the other mattresses would now be in use by the other family members. I also improvised an extension cord by pirating the wiring for an outdoor light. Then we ran out of water.

Here in Bahia, water doesn't always comes out of the tap when you turn it on. Actually, if you have means, you don't have that problem because anyone who can afford it puts big water reservoirs in the attic or on the roof so if the water stops flowing for a day or so, you won't have an interruption. We have 1500 liters of water in our attic and we've only run out a couple times. Our rental had two tanques with a combined capacity somewhat less than than our own. In case the others ran dry, which is what happened, there was a third one on the ground which we filled with a hose. This allowed us to flush toilets and take baths with buckets if necessary, but it wasn't as nice as turning on the tap and having water come out.

Although a pain, this wasn't as big a deal as it sounds like. Evani's family does not have tanques on the roof, so they are used to running out of water and washing from buckets, and I did it when necessary for the year that I lived with them. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that there was also no hot water in the apartment, something that would stop the hearts of many a thin-blooded foreigner, but didn't merit a second thought for us. We have hot water at our house, but we actually turn it off all summer long as we don't feel we really need it. The water isn't that cold- it sits in the hot attic all day. Then again, in the winter the heater gets turned back on, a testament to my thin-blooded youth.

We spent a pleasant evening hanging out in the square, which means everyone else hung out in the square drinking beer and talking, while I sat around watching Lucas as he jumped on the trampoline and rode around on the battery powered tricycles available for rent.

The storm clouds were gathering, and I mean that quite literally.

That night, it rained like crazy. Usually, when it rains here, it rains for an hour or so and then stops, then maybe it rains again a while later or it doesn't. Friday night it rained all night. And it rained hard. We abandoned our room, which ultimately was a quarter inch deep in water in places, and slept in the living room. I couldn't sleep on the still leaking mattress, so I curled up on the short lumpy couch. I didn't sleep well (nobody did) and we decided we'd leave the next morning.

The morning came and we changed our minds. Although overcast all day, the rain pretty much stopped and we managed to have a pretty good time mopping up the water and hanging out, eating food and drinking beer. The water had come back during the night so we could use the faucets again. It helped a lot that I had a whole season of Yo Gabba Gabba and Teen Titans on my iPod and laptop to keep Lucas entertained. More time was spent working on the mattress, and in the evening more time was spent in the square and on the trampoline and the tricycles.

The tiny church on the square had a mass while we were there, and Lucas wanted to watch. I indulged him. He's been asking more questions and making more comments about God and Jesus and such, which shouldn't come as a great surprise since he goes to a Catholic school. I'm starting to wonder when and how I should tell him that not everyone (specifically me) agrees with everything he is being taught at school. I'm not prepared to make a big deal out of it yet, if ever.

Last night: continuing rain, but much less. Continued leakage, but less. I got up twice in the night to pump up the accursed mattress, but I did manage to sleep on it. Easter morning, no beer. Beach, swimming, sunburn despite the overcast. I did a drawing with my oilsticks on the beach (if it's on the beach, does it still count as street art?) Here's a little video of it:

And here's a drawing of the piece I did the day before:

We had lunch, cleaned up, and went home. Gratefully.

Evani still has the place for one more weekend. I bet you are wondering if we'll go back. Well, actually, we will- or I will, with the kids. Evani's been invited for another outing. Maybe I've lost my grain of esperteza. But I'll tell you what- if the forecast is for rain, we'll make it a day trip, just to get the stuff we left up there. And we won't be sleeping on inflatable mattresses.


Fabio Bossard said...

OMG, Mark! I was out of breath reading your story. I kept wondering if you enjoyed the trip in the end.

You may have realized that being "esperto" doesnt mean being "smart" or intelligent in this context. It's not a thing to be pursued. It's one negative trait of the Brazilian trait. It's a shame how Brazilians praise who are "esperto" while you act the right way you are "otário".

markuza said...

Thanks Fabio- I wasn't sure anyone would read that whole post, it got kinda long :)

I was writing the whole 'esperto' bit a bit 'tongue in cheek' (a good expression for your blog) although I'd rather be a malandro than an otário. One of my favorite English expressions is 'Nice guys finish last,' because I am generally a nice guy and I think (not nice) people take advantage of the fact.

Fabio Bossard said...

Oh, sorry, Mark. I didn't choose the best expression. I didn't mean "out of breath" because it was a long post. It was fun to read actually, but when I thought it couldn't get worse, something else happened to make your weekend trip unforgetable (rsrsrs).

Sweet, I haven't heard this 'tongue-i-cheek' expression before your comment. I have heard about "nice guys finish last" though, but I decided to look it up again. For some reason I had created a different meaning to it in my head. I thought it was related to sex itself.

markuza said...

Actually you used that expression appropriately, I understood what you meant. As for the other 'nice guys' expression- hah! Well, that too.

Fabio Bossard said...

You know Mark, I have to tell you that I learn a lot of English from your blog.