Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Near Swindle

I don't know if anyone reads this blog anymore, and if you don't, I can't blame you.  Of course, if you don't, you didn't get the message, and you, dear reader, clearly stuck with me through the quiet times and for that I am eternally grateful.

So it's been nearly eight years I've been living in my house, far and away the longest time I have ever lived anywhere.  An unlikely spot to land perhaps, but here I am, and will stay at least for the foreseeable future.  As you may know, before we moved in to this place we implemented an ambitious renovation of the house, six months of craziness that had to be finished before a certain wedding and the birth of a certain child who will be, you guessed it- eight this year.

The renovation is starting to show its age, although not as badly as the renovation of our largo, which happened at roughly the same time.  If it was up to me, we'd do it all over again, or at least the last 20 percent of it, which involved painting and making the place look nice.

The troubling bit is a big beam we put in in order to 'open up' our kitchen - it involved removing a big old column that was supporting... a lot of weight... and now it appears as though it is bending a bit.  There are cracks in the kitchen and clearly things are shifting around.  It's not the kind of thing that can be left alone, it needs to be remedied, and it needs to be remedied now.  At least, that's what they told me a couple months ago when I had it looked at by a professional.  Not trusting any of the builders I know here (or much of anyone else for that matter) I tried to get a recommendation from someone, anyone, I trusted.  This resulted in me finding nobody and spending a lot of time calling a neighbor of mine who supposedly had all these good leads, none of which panned out as the dude spends so much time talking that he doesn't actually do much of anything else.

So I grabbed the phone book and started calling.

I hate doing that.

After a few dead ends I got a positive response: yes, we do residential renovations, someone will call you.  And he did.  A representative of one of the biggest building firms in the city - actually, bigger than the city, it's headquartered in São Paulo.

The guy, who I'll call Everaldo because that's his name, came by and was a model of calm competency.  This was odd, because he essentially told us that the house was going to collapse tomorrow if we didn't hire him immediately to fix it.  I was flipped out and he made me much more so, although he was offering, selling actually, a solution.  The next day he arranged to have some steel supports sent over to prop up the impending doom hanging over our heads and also sent me a contract which was... very expensive.

I didn't spend two minutes thinking about it, I told him let's do it and get it over with.

You know where this is headed.

I've been reading a fair amount of fantasy books lately, which has been fun, but let me tell you something: don't start reading a trilogy or a septology or whatever the thing is going to be until the author actually finishes the thing.  It's most annoying to be caught up in the middle of a story and then have to wait around for the author to finish the next book.  It's not a problem I've encountered before - it was not an issue with Lord of the Rings nor with the Dragon Tattoo novels, which weren't actually fantasy.  If I'm not mistaken both of these examples were intended to be single, mammoth volumes until their editors convinced them to split them up into smaller chunks.  A practical decision, at least in the pre-electronic-book age, when I can carry my whole damn library around with two fingers.

But I digress.  The whole reason I brought up the fantasy novels is that in one of them (the first 2/3 of Patrick Rothfuss' The Kingkiller Chronicle) there's a lot of talk about the 'sleeping mind.'  The sleeping mind, it turns out, is much smarter than the waking mind, and is essential to the making of magic.  Well,  to the naming of things actually, but I'm not going to get into that here.

Although I have had little success in the making of magic, and a spotty record when it comes to naming things, I am a firm believer in the sleeping mind.  My mind in particular.  Most of it is sleeping most of the time, even when I'm awake, which, contrary to popular belief, I am most of the time.  The sleeping mind knows what it wants.  The sleeping mind takes time to reach a decision, but it decides.  The sleeping mind speaks loudly, even if I don't know what it's trying to tell me most of the time.

This decision of mine to contract Everaldo to work on my house drove my sleeping mind into overdrive.  It also occupied the waking part, but the whole brain was roiling with the pros and cons, benefits and repercussions of having this guy come in and take care of it.  I was really annoyed with myself because I'd been determined to get at least three estimates before I chose one after careful deliberation, and then I'd gone and done just the opposite.  I figured it was worth spending the extra money if I had the resources of a mighty construction company at my disposal.  I'm a guy who's willing to spend a bit more, providing it means that I'll get a really good job done.

Unfortunately, history has not borne this out, at least not for me.  I've paid a little bit more and gotten a more than a little less, on multiple occasions.  If someone's going to overcharge you, they tend to assume that you are an idiot in all respects, and that not only don't you know what a job is worth that you also won't know if the job is well done.

So this was bothering me.  I spent a couple very bad nights, where I slept little and also poorly, as my mind went over the thing, and over, and over, and over it again.  After the first bad night I realized I wasn't actually ready to sign the contract, which was probably the smartest decision I've made all year.

My wife, who is much smarter than me about many things, smelled a rat.  The dude had a truck with the name of the business on the side (which is Predial by the way) and the contract was on the company letterhead, but he seemed to be acting on his own.  He didn't bring an engineer over to evaluate the situation, which was something I'd been using as a starting point - evaluation by structural engineer.  I showed the contract to my accountant for some reason, not sure why, and he didn't like it either.  He pointed out that the guy was asking for a very large percentage up front, which is unusual.

After my second bad night of sleep I started stalling.  I told Everaldo that I was going to have to wait a week to get started, with the intention of getting the other estimates I'd wanted in the beginning.  I also told him I was waiting on a response from my lawyer (actually my accountant) who was looking over the contract.  I can't tell you what a relief it was to tell him that I'd call him next week.

I had another professional look at the job today, a much more reasonable sounding guy who isn't representing a large corporation.  He hasn't given me the estimate yet so we'll see how reasonable he really is.  I have another guy coming tomorrow, who was recommended to me, which is what I wanted in the first place.

And I did something else today.  I called Predial at their headquarters in São Paulo to feel them out and see if there was anything irregular about the situation.  As I was explaining the whole thing the woman cut me off to inform me that Predial does not do residential jobs.  So Everaldo is officially full of shit.

It all seems so obvious in the retelling.  It also seems like I could have told the story more concisely, perhaps by cutting out the bit about the fantasy novels and the sleeping mind, but that was my favorite part.  All I can say is that I'm glad I didn't sign the contract, and all that remains is to get rid of this guy.

I could do a couple things at this point - I could do 'the right thing' and go into Crusader Mode and report the guy so he doesn't take advantage of other people.  Probably by calling the right person I could get him fired.  He's committing fraud by using the company's name and reputation to line his own pockets - I think he probably works for them, and I don't think they'd be happy to see the contract he wrote up.  I could also vindicate myself by confronting him with my knowledge of his shady scheme.  But you want to know something?  I'm tired.  I'm working too much and I'm stressed out.  I'm too tired to write blog posts.  So I'll just do what my wife suggested, which is to tell Mister Shyster that we aren't going to do the work right now and maybe I'll give him a call when I get things sorted out.

But I do hope the bit about the lawyer made him at least a little nervous...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Harvest


I used to harvest different things this time of year, but that was a different time and a different hemisphere.  Then again, I don't know if you have a 'harvest' time here in the tropics, I'm guessing it would be at different times for different crops.

This kind of harvest happens once every two years here in Brazil, and it happens on election day.  I actually wrote about it once before, although not in much detail, and with no photos.  I harvested the Brazilian version of lawn signs, which are a massive industry at election time.  I really should have taken some pictures of the unharvested crops, but I didn't.  Plus they were looking pretty rocky by the time I went out at five, which was when the polls closed.

Now I would like to quote myself from the previous post sited above, because who better to quote but myself?  I said:

"I plan to paint these monsters with spray paint. I've always been ambivalent about the use of spray paint on canvas, but these seem like the perfect thing to paint on- probably because they were free and will be re-purposed, which I like. Plus they're big, which is how I figure spray paint should be used."

 And I did paint them.  Some of them, anyways - others got dismantled and made into tarps and other projects - lots of good, free wood in them.  Here's probably the most successful one:


Let me add to my previous statement by saying that I am still ambivalent about painting with spray paint on canvas, but if I'm going to do so (and I will) then these are absolutely the ideal canvases to use.  In addition to the reasons cited above, the fact that they come 'from the street' which is where graffiti really belongs helps make their transition indoors a bit more palatable.  And we can't underestimate the value of FREE - real canvases this size would cost a bloody fortune!

I went out at five because I didn't want any hassle from the cops, and I didn't get any, although I saw many.  I also went out by myself, which made me a bit nervous, but thankfully nothing untoward happened.  I was much more selective this time than two years ago - I rejected many possible options because they were ripped or warped or the 'canvas' (plastic actually) sagged in a weird way.  One otherwise perfect one was infested with termites so it was left by the roadside.

One big contrast from the last time I went out harvesting signs was the huge number of vandalized signs.  Many had been slashed or were completely smashed.  At first I thought this was due to voter rage, and there certainly was more of that this year than I remember from past elections.  But it also occurs to me that it would be quite easy for a candidate to pay someone to go out and perform a bit of ultraviolence on the opposition's propaganda.

Some people I know spent the day reclaiming walls that had been painted by the campaigns.  I didn't do that this year, and I'm glad- there will be a second round of voting which means that there will be a second round of painting, and presumably of signs as well.  I think after the second round I'll go out and claim some walls - I have plenty of fresh canvases: eight that are two meters square, six that are one meter, and one that is three meters.  If I paint all of them in the next two years that would be a lot of paintings.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Vida, Fim de Festa

I neglected to post a follow up to my previous post, telling the end of the story with Vida.

As you probably already have guessed, we brought her back.  Or rather, I brought her back. The same day I wrote my last post.

Although my wife's vehement opposition to having Vida in the house was the precipitating factor, in fairness to her, it was more like the straw that broke the camel's back.  I knew that owning a dog would be a lot of work, and it was becoming clear pretty quickly that Vida's injured leg meant that she was going to have a hard time doing things that I was going to want to do, like go for bike rides and such.  Granted, my wife may have changed her mind and her leg may have gotten better, but I had to balance the possibility of that happening against the reality that Lucas and I were getting very attached to her, and bringing her back in two weeks time would have been much worse than bringing her back after 24 hours.  The leg I could have lived with, my wife's resentment I could not.  Not fair to Vida, not fair to Lucas and I, and not fair to my wife either, so I chose to nip the whole ordeal in the bud and bring her back.

I figured the whole thing would fade quickly and we'd get over it, and we have.  Lucas has continued to bring her up, our almost-dog, which surprises me a bit although it shouldn't.

My wife says she'd prefer one of those rat-like, yappy, drop-kickable dogs which you might gather I am not entirely fond of.  Not that I'd actually drop kick a dog, especially one that was stupid enough to think it could challenge a human that weighs in excess of 20 times its weight and might actually bite me.

Who knows - maybe a rat dog is better than no dog.  Especially if there's peace in the household.  As for now, the whole dog thing is seriously back-burnered. 

As for Vida, I reckon the whole ordeal was simply a brief interlude with a couple of nice people in a strange place - she went back to what she was used to and seemed quite happy to see her old humans again.  I sure hope she ends up in a nice place - she deserves it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vida, Day Two

It's not looking good for the dog.  My wife hates her.  Says she's too big, she doesn't like the smell, doesn't like the hair.  Might be best to take her back before Lucas and I get too attached.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vida






Well, I went and done it this time.

Meet Vida, the newest member of the family, who joined us this morning.  Officially she is on a trial basis - ie we need for my wife to warm up to her.  The fact that Vida is here at all is remarkable considering the rather colorful response I received from Evani on Sunday when I told her I'd found this very sweet dog.

We've been talking about getting a dog for a while, and I had Evani's vague approval.  I mentioned this to her after we got home, and also told her she had some rottweiler in her, and she agreed to give her a try.  Then, when we get her home this morning, she was alarmed to see how large Vida was, so there is still some warming up to do.  From my perspective, she's not that big - my friend Sins has real rottweilers, and they are two or three times Vida's size.  She's a medium size dog, at least by US standards, but in the US everything is supersized.

Despite the shredded towel in the photo, Vida is super mellow and sweet.  She's sleeping peacefully on the floor here in the store like she's been here for years.  She's very mellow with Lucas, and Lucas is completely taken with her, at least for now.

Let me explain what happened: on Sunday, I took Lucas to the Parque de Pituaçu, which has gotten several mentions on this oft-neglected blog.  This time we didn't bring our bikes, our intention being to ride the swan boats, which we did.  Lucas seemed to think they were more like bumper cars, although I wouldn't let him actually ram anyone like he wanted to.  While we were waiting for our boat I noticed there was an animal adoption station in the park.  I'd been trying to get to one for some time.  We didn't have time to visit it until after the boat ride, and by then it was five o'clock and they were packing up for the day.  I went by and there were some puppies and kittens, I was not interested in them.  I asked to see the oldest dog there, and they showed me Vida.

My intention was to get an older dog, something like 6 or 7 years old.  Vida, although nobody is certain, is probably two or three.  She was found on the beach in a very bad way about four months ago - she had been hit by a car and was living on the streets.  She has a pronounced limp in one leg, although it has apparently gotten a bit better as she's recovered and put on weight.  Her remarkable recovery earned her the name Vida, which for those unversed in Romance languages, means 'Life.'  We don't know that much more about her, but we think she must have lived with a family at one point, since she is so mellow around people.

She doesn't bark, she doesn't whine, she doesn't jump up on us.  She wants to play at biting, but you couldn't even call it nipping.  And she does like to play, which is an advantage with a younger dog, and also a bonus with a young, energetic child.  She's also been spayed, and gotten all her shots, and she came free with a collar, a leash, a dog bowl, and a little plastic dog brush.

So far, so good.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Back to Imbassaí

Stop me if you've heard this one:

Q: How can you tell you've had a deadhead staying at your house?

A: He's still there!!

Apropos of very little, maybe just an embarrassing clue as to how old I am (ie you kids probably didn't get that).

Every once in a while we get a guest at our house who doesn't really go anywhere.  They make occasional forays out into the city, but then they come back and spend almost all their time at the house.  I can relate pretty well, as I think I've been that kind of guest at times, and continue to be that kind of person.  The truth is I don't go out very much except for occasional forays into the city, and now I have my surrogate house at my store where I can indulge in the same behavior.

We just had one of these guests at our house, and luckily he was a very nice guy, because when you get another homebody in a house full of homebodies, you better hope the chemistry is good or else one or the other will end up counting the hours until the person leaves.  A fellow expat who stays with us from time to time, someone who loves Brazil wholeheartedly and is in the process of establishing herself here, asked me what was going on with this guy, that he never left the house.  He's scared, I said, he doesn't like it here.  She asked him and he confirmed this in so many words.

I gave our guest the same advice my expat friend gave me: get out of the city.  Actually she said get out of the city once a month, which would be about ten times more often than I actually do get out.  I remember a certain panel in a Julie Doucet comic book, where she drew her little map of her movements, from the apartment, to the post office, to the store, I don't remember what else.  My map would be home, to store, to Lucas' school, to the bank, and back home again.  And it's not a pretty little patch of city that I run around in.  It's really quite filthy and loud and largely not charming.  I've watched historic buildings in advanced stages of decay get torn down and replaced with flat, ugly cement facades covered in ugly tile.  I've watch the exorbitantly expensive renovation of the Largo get beaten to a pulp, unappreciated, uncared for.

I am never alone in a forest- never, ever.

Well, all of that may be about to change, which is something I'll have to save for another post, as my preamble has probably lost me half my readership.  And let me qualify the 'about' - the way plans get implemented here, it could be another 20 or 30 years before anything gets rolling.  If the Brazilian economy goes bust again, as it has repeatedly over the last couple centuries, maybe 50 years.  Or maybe never.

Soooo - I turned 43 last week and decided that what I wanted for my birthday was, you guessed it, to get out of the city.  I had hoped to go with the wife and the kid, but truth is my wife hates to go on family trips.  A nice couple nights with just the kid seemed pretty awesome.  I opted to go to Imbassaí, a little town up the coast a couple hours, and a place we've gone repeatedly over the years.  It's changed a lot in ten years.  Turns out that since I was last there all the roads got paved and they even put in bike paths - real, European style bike paths separate from the roads, with a dotted line down the middle and everything.  This was a pleasant surprise because I'd actually brought our bikes.  Man would I kill to have paths like that here in Salvador.  We did get out and ride in them, although I didn't see anyone else using them, except some pedestrians, who unlike in Europe, don't usually get out of the way when a bike comes along.

I had an ulterior motive when I went up there- I'm in the market for a little piece of land outside of the city.  This is to help with the aforementioned affliction of running around in little urban circles and brooding about how ugly and run down things are.  I've got my eye on a couple places, providing I can find something cheap, as I don't have a lot of money to spend.  I could go north along the coast, with Imbassaí being about as far north as I would consider, due to the travel time from the city.  I could also look at the island of Itaparica, which faces Salvador across the bay, and has lots of cheap land still (so I've heard).  Or, another less considered option is to go inland into the Recôncavo, which doesn't have access to the ocean but probably has lots of cheap spots to be had, if not much else.

It didn't take long to discover that I've missed the boat in Imbassaí.  A small building lot in the center of town costs about 150 thousand reais, or 75 thousand dollars.  This is for a marshy, miserable little swamp (sorry, 'wetland') and the opportunity to tap into city water and electric and possibly a massive housing bubble Brazilian style.  The same lot, ten years ago?  Maybe 10 thousand reais, which would have been about three thousand dollars.  Do the math and it brings on a pretty serious case of Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda so best not to dwell on it.

Short interlude:  the highlight of my trip?  Laying in my room listening to the rain fall on the leaves of the trees just outside the screen door as I drifted off to sleep.  Delicious.

I chatted with the owner of the place I was staying at about what I was looking for and he mentioned a place a bit inland, on the other side of the coastal highway, 'very peaceful,' with a house on it that needs some work.  50 thousand, which is a lot more than I can afford, but also much better than 150K.  Knowing I couldn't buy the place, I decided to go check it out with him the next day, just to give me an idea of what is available.

I came to regret that decision.

I woke up this morning with a nasty headache.  A cold that had been coming on had taken a turn for the worse.  I was blowing my nose all the time and trying to ignore the occasional throbbing fits from the cranium as I packed up our stuff.  The owner of the hostel wasn't there, so I almost skipped the proposed viewing of the house.  But as luck would have it, or rather azar (I love it that Portuguese has a word for bad luck) he rolled in just as I was strapping on the bikes and was game for going out there.  We were going to take my car, but he had a couple water-cooler sized bottles to fill while he was out there.  They wouldn't go in my car with the bikes on there (a bit more azar) so he threw them in his own and I was to follow.

Dude flew out of Imbassaí like a bat out of hell.  I had a hard time keeping up.  We went through a very muddy tunnel and then over a fancy bit of new road, and then off it into a muddy construction area mess.  I'm usually quite game to pretend that my subcompact car is a Range Rover, but when Dude went flying through a river that went up to the bottom of his doors, I stopped.

I really didn't want to go through the river.  I was concerned I'd get stuck, and my aging car is heavily perforated with rust on the underbody, which means a lot of water was guaranteed to get in.  But Dude had made it through in a car smaller than mine, and promptly disappeared around the next bend.  I decided to go through the river.

I came to regret that decision.

We made it through, and although my car had wet floors it seemed okay.  We drove out to the spot, which was remote, but also along a road that was pretty much one house after the other, and not the nicest houses in the world.  When we got to the spot, I heard the doom-do-doom, do-doom bass of Bahian Pagode pounding out of someone's house, or car.

It didn't matter if it was a house or a car.  I hate Bahian Pagode, and one of the reasons I want to get out of the city on the weekends is to get away from the doom, do-doom that permeates the air here, permeates my house, permeates, quite literally, my body even as I write this thanks to some fucking bozo on my street who doesn't give a shit whether I want to hear his music or not at ten o'clock at night.  The povão of Bahia, which is to say the (getting less) poor and (definitely not huddled) masses, love this music and presume that everyone else must as well (I often remember that line from the Blues Brothers, "We got both kinds of music, Country and Western!") and the thought of leaving the city to go to my country retreat and being forced to listen to doom, do-doom all night instead of peepers and rain falling on leaves makes my skin crawl.

Then I got out of my car.  And one of the first things I noticed is that the front license plate of my car was gone.  It got ripped from the car as I charged through the river.  That's gonna cost me. As I wrote in this post from 2008 when both of my plates were stolen:

Brazil is a place where you can drive without headlights, without a brain, until recently with an open beer in your hand, and presumably without brakes, but I wasn't going to risk driving without plates.

And wouldn't you know it?  I got stopped this afternoon driving out of there just for this reason.  Luckily didn't get a ticket.  By the way - I saw a guy driving with an open beer in his hand yesterday.

Dude walked me up to the little house on the hill, which was cute, and had a nice view of the jungle, and discovered he had no way to get in.  That's okay, I told him, and explained that the doom, do-doom put me off in a hurry.  He said no, it's not usually like that, it must be some people up from Salvador, having a party, it being a holiday and all.  Well, maybe so, but unfortunately I was going to fit essentially that same profile, so basically I could count on someone bringing the noise up with them.  If in fact that was the case.  Part of the Brazilian miracle is that millions of Brazilians are now 'participating in the economy,' which means buying things like... sound systems... so they can play their Bahian Pagode for the whole freakin' neighborhood.

I said my goodbyes to Dude and got in my car to get the hell out of there.  And when I turned the key?  Nothing happened.

I popped the hood and there was a lot of water in the engine compartment.  I don't know much about cars, but my guess is that the starter got wet and wasn't cooperating.  Dude said I'd probably have to wait for it to dry out.

At the thought of passing the whole afternoon there my headache got worse, my cough seemed more insistent, my stomach felt emptier.

Dude suggested trying his brand new jumper cables, which we did, even though I really didn't think that was the problem.  Then he disappeared for a really long time looking for someone to help him fill his water bottles.  I spent the time playing with Lucas and explaining that he might not make it to the birthday party he wanted to go to.  I also cleaned up my car some, even discovering a mouse nest, but no mice.

When Dude finally came back we did something that hadn't even occurred to me in my self-pitiable state.  We jump started it, which worked fabulously.  Then, we drove back a longer, alternate route that didn't involve driving through rivers and losing license plates.

To make a long story a bit less long, I made it home and parked the car facing downhill here in the neighborhood - we have plenty of those.  Highway driving did not serve to restore function to the starter, and I'm praying it didn't get killed this afternoon.  Tack the price of a new starter to the cost of the license plates and it becomes a pretty expensive little jaunt to visit a house I can't even afford to buy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Entrevista

Today I moved up a notch - perhaps a small one - in my street art career.  An interview with me was published on the 'A Arte Na Rua' (The Art in the Street) website, which chronicles the graffiti/street art scene here in Salvador.  The Arte Na Rua site is a project of José F. Paranaguá, who can be found at any street art event or related gallery opening with his camera, he knows everyone, and he is what every city should have - an historian for an ephemeral art form.  There are pictures in the article that I didn't even know that he took.  If you read Portuguese, have a read, if you don't, there are some nice pictures.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

DJ Markuza's Matar Saudades Tour


I've been involved with an arts event for a while here in Salvador, and have been moving gradually from spectator to participant.  A couple weeks ago I did a 'live paint' at one of the events, here's the result:


It was fun, and challenging.  Being someone who loves nothing so much as to lock himself away in his house away from other human, I'm not sure why I offer to put myself on display doing anything, but I guess that was one thing all those years of Capoeira were good for.

A friend of mine told me he wasn't going to participate in these events anymore, because they didn't offer him anything.  By that I mean food and/or beverage, although maybe there were other things he wanted as well.  He alluded to the fact that clearly there was money involved in putting the things on, they had a couple big sponsors including some governmental cash.  They are put on by a person who is a whiz at writing grants and maneuvering through bureaucracies, something I am absolutely hopeless at.  Me personally?  I could care less if I'm getting paid - I played in rock bands where we didn't earn a penny for most of gigs,  we even drove hours to play music and not get paid for it.  For the above painting, I at least didn't have to bring my own paint, so I was happy.

A little over a week ago, I was asked if I'd be interested in doing a DJ set at the next event.  It didn't take me long to decide that I really, really did want to.  My silly nickname was actually originally my DJ name: DJ Markuza, the Somnambulist - and I diligently put my listeners to sleep in the fine metropolis of Brattleboro, Vermont on a weekly basis.  Before that, I did college radio for five years.  Of course, all of that was before I moved to Brazil, which makes it over ten years ago, but what the hell.  All I had to do was play all my favorite songs, it was only a one-time deal after all.

And then she tells me that I'll be getting paid.

More than I ever got paid for any gig I did back in my rock and roll days.

Even adjusted for inflation.

So yeah, I was interested, and I spent the last week putting together a playlist in iTunes and listening to it over and over - if there's one thing I'm good at, it's listening to the same thing over and over.  Not as much as my neighbors, who will listen to the same song eight or ten times in an evening until I want to firebomb their sound systems, but I can get pretty repetitive.  I had three whole hours to play music, and I crafted the first hour pretty much song for song, with the idea that I would improvise from the rest of the list when I was there.  I had an iPod and my MacBook, and what are pretty primitive notions about how to DJ in the digital age - I probably just should have downloaded some program and used that.  Back in the day, we didn't even have CD's in the radio station, and I'll tell ya, it's pretty fun dropping a needle on a record and finding the beginning of a beat.  But I was prepared to improvise with these new-fangled MP3 thingies.

Improvise I did.  I guess I should have specified that I wanted a mixing deck, because there wasn't one - there wasn't even a CD player, which I was kind of counting on as well.  But there was a nice sound system, and they had a mixing board, and the guys in charge were very helpful getting me set up with a couple channels on the board, even if it meant doing my thing in a cramped corner rather than on the nice big empty table I had at my disposal.  This is fun, right?

The set went pretty well.  I played Beethoven and Toots and the Maytals, but mostly it was older electronica tracks from back in my post-stoner period - again, over ten years ago now.  I made some mistakes, including a couple big ones, but there weren't a lot of people there and it seemed like those that were were enjoying it pretty well.  In fact, if you watch the silly little video I made, you'll see some random dude getting right into the air drums in time with the music, which I have to consider high praise.

Truth be told, I was feeling pretty good about myself, until about the last half hour, when I started to lose my edge and began making stupid mistakes.  And then the next DJ showed up.  He didn't have to ask for a mixing deck, he brought his own.  And not one laptop, but two.  And an iPad.  With a fancy DJ program installed.  Several to many thousands of reais in equipment.  Watching him set up, I began to feel very out of date with my little improvised setup.  He did have an absurd ironic tattoo on the back of his neck (2+2=5) so I did have something to feel superior about, but it felt hollow.

When I finally wrapped it up, which was something of a relief at that point, I got another surprise.  Another of the organizers asked me if I had a 10 real note on me, which I did.  She traded me for a 50 real note, explaining that as a DJ, I got 40 reais ($20 US) for food.

Well, shit.  Remember my friend who wasn't going to these things anymore?  That's all he would have wanted.  In fact, he probably would have been satisfied with ten reais - enough to buy a snack and a soda.  Or a whole meal with beverage in one of the humbler restaurants in the city.  As it was, this was going to pay for my expressos and the dry chicken-dough-wrapped thingie that I ate at the café, plus a full-size sub at Subway on my way home, a severely overpriced splurge that I almost never indulge in.  With something left over.

I've been hearing more of these stories about how those who are on the in with the cash do well, while most everyone else gets screwed, kinda like the haves and the have-nots kinda thing.  Well, this is the first time I've been on the better side of that deal, and I gotta say it's pretty nice.  But I must confess it doesn't seem very fair.  And I'm sure that in terms of actually being on the 'haves' team, I am not even scratching the surface.

After mentally spending my food allowance, I moved to my next (unpaid) activity for the evening, hosting a second round of Exquisite Corpse, during which fun was had by all involved.  As I listened to Ironic Tattoo's set, I decided it may have been better than mine- but not thousands of reais better.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Feedback

The contact form on my website markuza.com gets very little exercise, but today I got a submission.  Here it is:

PARABEMS PELO SITE TÁ MASSA SO PODE PASSA POR CIMA DA PIXAÇÃOES PQ A VERDAERIA ARTE E PIXAÇÃO E BEM ANTES EXISTE GRAFFITY JÁ VINHA APIXAÇÃO COMO FORMA DE POTESTO Ñ COMO MODA OU ALGO PRA FIKA GALERIA OU EM EVENTOS DO GORVENO PIXAÇÃO E GRAFFITY É POTESTO Ñ MODA ....


The following is what it essentially translates to- I'll skip the all-caps as I don't believe it was his/her intention to 'yell' at me.  For those who aren't familiar with the word, 'pixação' refers to Brazilian tagging and is a very big deal here.  I won't get into it too much but it's generally more associated with vandalism and is more frowned upon legal-wise than the kind of graffiti that I do.

Congratulations for the site, it's great - you can only go over the pixação because the real art is pixação and well before there was graffiti pixação had already come as a form of protest, not a fashion or something to be in a gallery or in government events, pixação is a protest, not fashion...


Thanks?  I'm not 100% sure this is really praise...  the thing that concerns me most about it is the bit about 'going over' the pixação.  I don't paint over these guys - generally they don't paint over us and I like it that way.  I respect their work, irregardless of whether I like it, so I hope he (I'm assuming it's a he) doesn't think that I am doing so.  He could also be talking about the fact that I 'go over' as in 'paint above' their work, and I plan to write him back and ask him.  However, it has occurred to me that this could also be problematic - in pixação as well as in other kinds of graffiti there is a thing about having the highest tag on the wall, and these guys who do pixo (pixadores) are known for scaling the outsides of buildings and painting all the way up- and I'm talking like 20+ stories.  A pixador that I know told me one dude got himself in trouble by writing 'Acima de mim só Deus' (above me only God) which apparently rubbed some folks the wrong way.

So I hope they don't think I'm trying to say I'm better than them because I'm working up higher.  I'm doing it for strictly practical reasons: there's a lot of blank real estate, and it's less likely to get messed with.  Believe me- other than that, it's not very practical at all.

Evani thinks that he meant to say 'the only thing that could be better than pixação is graffiti.'  I like that interpretation better.

I'll write him back and thank him, and try to see if his feathers are ruffled for real.  I searched his email on The Facebook (which by the way is not worth 100 billion, I don't care what anyone says) and dude only has two friends, which isn't real promising.

I did want to mention one other thing he said, something that bothers me about artists in general- definitely not limited to pixadores.  I like to put artists in two loose categories- those who think that one kind of art is 'better' than the others, and those that think that art is art and you can make great (or fabulously shitty) art out of just about anything.  Maybe I should just say that there are those who believe in a hierarchy of media (generally with their own at the top) and those who don't recognize such a hierarchy.

I definitely fall into the second category.  I grew up seeing all the different things that my dad did- carving pipes, drawing, making masks, etching, painting - and I felt it was all equally valid.  I don't know if he thought of one or the other as being superior, he did call himself a 'painter' but I never heard him say that painting was the pinnacle of artistic creation. He did tell me once that he wished he could just spend all his time clearing brush in the woods, so I kind of doubt he felt that way.  Unfortunately it's too late to ask him.

In case it isn't obvious, I think this whole concept of one media being superior to another is utter bullshit. Whenever I hear someone state that kind of opinion, I want to tell them to check their egos, because it's generally symptomatic of other notions of grandiosity.

Or maybe it's just that I feel strongly about/against the concept of 'supremacy'.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Car to Owner: "Fix Me"

Over the strenuous objections of my wife, I have opted to repair rather than replace our aging automobile.  The reasons for this are several, but suffice it to say that it's a lot cheaper fixing an old, payed-off one than taking on five years of car payments.  Plus I don't drive that much.  Where I'm from, there's no shame in driving a filthy, rusty car that may double as a waste paper basket - cars are transportation, essentially a necessary evil.  Here not so much - most folks take great pride in their cars, and keep them well scrubbed.

The poor car has had three main problems plaguing it: 1. locks, 2. rust, and 3. overheating.  I'm scheduled to get the body work done this week.  About a month ago, I finally sprung for a new key, which means I no longer have to stand there jiggling the key in the lock for five minutes to open the dern thing.  Expensive, but worth it.

Which leaves item 3, the overheating.  This has been a horrible plague of a problem that has been haunting me for a couple years now.  Intermittently, unpredictably, the car will overheat as I am driving and I have to stop and let it cool, bleed off the boiling water and replace it, turn back or even abandon the thing until the engine block cools.  This means that I've been in a near-constant state of edginess every time that I drive, eyes glued to the temperature gauge, unwilling to take the car out of the city and also generally only driving at night, as it was more prone to happen in stopped traffic and during the day.

My mechanic, a decent enough guy, was completely flummoxed by this problem.  He tried fixing and replacing various things but nothing worked.  I went a couple months with no problems but then it overheated again.  And then I planned a trip out of the city, two hours drive each way.  The problem had to be resolved.

I actually considered calling the Car Talk guys, I don't really listen to their show so I don't know if they take skype calls from Brazil, but I didn't really want to be subjected to ridicule so I didn't call.  So I did what any modern, essentially non-mechanical type without a decent mechanic or a lot of money to spend would do - I went to the internet.  Crowd-source the problem, that's what the internet is good for.  Answers to all your problems only a google away.

So I googled.  And lo and behold - I found a match.  Same car, same engine, same intermittent, inexplicable problem.  Better yet, the poster stated that the mechanic informed him that the fix would not solve the problem, but it did.  It said I needed a new heater control valve.

Part of the problem of being an expat is having to translate something obscure like heater control valve.  Direct translations rarely work, and make already suspicious 'professionals' even more so.  I mentioned what I read to my mechanic and he was extremely skeptical - he also had no clue what I was talking about.  I called an auto parts place, intending to buy the part and then find a mechanic to install it, but they also got confused and told me I needed a mechanic's recommendation.  But the mechanic doesn't know shit I wanted to say, but didn't.

My mechanic told me he had an electrician friend who I should take the car to, and would tell me what the problem is.  In response to my proffered solution, he told me is 'wasn't done that way,' so I went to the electrician, who had no idea what was going on.  When I told him about the heater control valve, he said it was working properly.

So yesterday I leave town with Lucas in the car, and sure enough, it overheats about half an hour out of the city.  I considered turning back, but decided to press on.  Another half hour into the trip it happened again.  I really should have turned back at that point, but I was feeling stubborn, and I was half-way there.  I drove a bit further into a town called Catu, and I saw an auto parts store.  What the hell, I thought, and stopped.

I don't want to bore you with all the details, but essentially I was determined to buy the part, which I had discovered is called a válvula termostática, and get someone to install it.  Enough with the flailing mechanics.  I found the part, and conveniently there was an adjoining garage that was still open, and I said let's do this.  The mechanic said I probably needed a much more expensive repair, but was willing to install the new valve.

So here's the kicker.  When the mechanic removed the housing to swap out the valve, there was no valve in there.  I'd been driving around for a couple years without an essential part of the engine. My googled solution was apparently correct, and the mechanics are idiots.  Mind you, this is the part that the second mechanic said was working properly.  The part was installed and I drove the rest of the trip with no problems.  I'm not going to say the problem is fixed, I'll need another month of driving to feel confident of that, but it's hard to imagine that this wasn't what needed doing.

And my mechanic?  As of yesterday he is officially my ex-mechanic.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Big Wall II, 'Bichinhos'

For a while now I've been working on a second large solo graffiti project. Like the first, I am taking advantage of the vertical dimension in order to have an impressive amount of square footage unclaimed by other street artists.  Unfortunately, this means I'm doing the whole thing by ladder, which makes everything go much slower, but in addition to having a big blank wall I also hope to avoid having anyone paint over my work.  Also like the first one, it is in a very public and well-traveled spot here in the center of the city, in this case right next to the Dique do Tororó, a large artificial lake I've written about before on this blog.

I'm doing a couple things differently this time: first of all, I've decided to only paint critters, or bichos as they would be called in Portuguese.  Originally it was going to be another visual free-for-all but I decided to limit it this time.  The other big change I decided on relates to time.  I knew this project would take me several months, as I will only be able to go out maybe once a week to work on it.  I realized that with my last wall, people were viewing it over time - if they passed by it, they would look for changes and new elements.  Problem was, with the last one, I left a lot of things half-finished and they stayed that way sometimes for a month or more.  This time, I'm painting discrete elements, critters as it were, and finishing them off each session so nothing will appear unfinished, and over time the painting evolves as new elements are introduced and interact with the existing ones.  Hopefully this will make the wall more interesting for anyone who is actually paying attention to what I'm doing.

I've been chronicling my progress on Flickr, here's an overview of what I've done so far.

Prequel - I took this photo just before I started what I consider to be 'Phase I.'  My original intervention was the three red monsters that I've been painting with some frequency, and the letters KUZA.  I hadn't committed myself to painting the whole dern thing (it's about 70 yards long) when I painted them.



Phase I - big centipedes and blue dinosaurs.  Don't tell the dudes who painted at ground level, but I sure wish it looked a bit nicer than it does.


Phase II - whale/amoeba thingies.  There are a lot of underwater beasties in here, but not all of them are.  These mostly travel in pods.


I also painted some terrestrial grazer-type things, which are beginning to show the overlapping effect I am ultimately after in the mural


Phase III - the first of what will hopefully be several worm/snake type things, painted on the left end of the wall. Traffic here (I was standing on the other side of the road as I took this) all goes right to left, so most of the movement in the painting will do so as well.  This was going to be much more plain, but it looked too boring so I embellished it.  In the middle is also a blue kamr famr, a creature I created back when I was younger than Lucas.


I plan to add several tributes into the work, here is the first: Totoro, by Hiyao Miyazaki, from one of my favorite films.  Also a school of underbite fish.


Phase IV - this week I only painted in this section, trying to build up to optimum density, still needs more overlapping.


Phase V - today.  This week Lucas did a little sketch and asked me if I'd add it to my mural.  I said sure - I'd actually been wanting to paint something of his for some time now.  Here it is in all its toothy glory.

These vines grow very quickly, and I have been ripping some of them down.  I decided not to fight them in this case, and instead painted in some camouflaged lizard creatures underneath them.


And some more underbite fish, and another of these worm/balloon whatever-it-is thingies...  this area is very close to having enough critters.  There are still big sections with nothing on them.


That's it for now!  Hope you enjoyed it.  I'll post an update when I'm done.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Doing My Bit for Digital Hegemony

Recently I was mucking around with Google Maps, which is something I do from time to time, and lamenting the fact that we don't have Street View here in Salvador (yet). Then I discovered something that you, dear reader, may have known about for years.

If you drag the little yellow guy from the distance slider in Google Maps, you can kick down into Street View, this I knew. The other thing, that I was vaguely aware of, is that you can place him on geomapped photos to see what things look like from where the picture was taken. What I didn't know is that, given enough images, you can click your way around a virtual space, shifting from one photo to another, taken by different users, and get a pretty interesting idea of what a place looks like. The best example I've found to date is in the Largo do Pelourinho, one of the most photogenic spots in the city.

After I got all excited about that, I decided to try to put some of my own images into the great virtual construct that is being created of our planet via Google and some other miscellaneous players. One of these players is Panoramio, which provides the images used by Google Maps and Google Earth. Looking suspiciously similar to Flickr, which has its own geomapping service (sadly not linked to The Google), you submit your photos for review and, if they get approved, they get plunked into Google Earth, later making their way into Google Maps.

At least, that's the theory. I had the brilliant realization that since you can click around and flow from one image to another (and since the site is called 'Panoramio' fercryinoutloud), that it would be really cool to submit 360 degree shots from around the largo and eventually to other places that I venture out to from time to time. I haven't actually found a spot where this has been implemented - where someone else has done the same, successfully - if you know of one please let me know.

I went out and did about a dozen super-slow pirouettes with my camera, then dutifully submitted them and mapped them. To my surprise, most of them were reviewed and accepted within 24 hours. Unfortunately, however, I did not see my images on the maps either in Google or in Panoramico itself. That is, until today.

Okay, I'll admit it - I've been checking every day to see if any of the images got added to the maps. I did manage to put the brakes on the picture taking and mapping - I wanted to see some results before I invested any more time and energy. Now there are pictures of mine in Largo 2 de Julho although the selection seems to have been entirely random, and not nearly complete. If each of my pirouettes required about nine photos, they appear to have dropped in only one of each. Needless to say, I can't see if my 360 degree panoramic theory will work. Hopefully more images will be added in time.

In case you're curious, I do have ulterior motives: I got into the whole thing in the first place because I wanted my customers to have some help finding my hidden shop, and then I realized I could map in all my graffiti!

Maybe I'll post a progress report if a) there is progress and b) I can maintain my interest.

Oh Glazed Reader, I do have other news, my son turned seven and I've taken on another big graffiti project, requiring ladders, on about 70 yards of retaining wall. I am also nearing the 10 mile landmark for my runs, which will be exciting. I may write about these things, and others, at another time.

Then again, maybe I won't.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Odd Runners

People are so strange. I was going to title this post 'weirdos,' but the bar for weirdness here in Salvador is pretty high, so I'll stick with 'odd,' as the people involved weren't exactly freaks. Unless you count me.

Funny thing happened today as I was running around the square...

Actually I had two funny experiences running around the square this week.

Since our time change, now that it gets dark at 6:00 again, the only place I feel safe running in the evening is around Campo Grande, so I've been doing just that a couple times a week. It has some real advantages: well lit, very flat, uniform surface so I don't have to look at the ground. On the other hand, it's pretty boring running the same 700 meter loop for forty minutes, but I figure it beats a treadmill. I call Campo Grande my gym. Probably should call it my track.

As you can imagine, I see a lot of the same faces there on different days, and there are new folks every time as well. On Tuesday, I found myself catching up to a guy I'd seen once before when he blew by me as I was staggering around the loop some time ago. At least ten years my senior, and clearly in much better shape than me. Tuesday I was doing what I've discovered is called a fartlek run, where I throw in some faster sections in addition to my normal pace. Turns out I was just getting to my faster-pace-starting-point when I passed this guy. I'm running along, having a blast, when suddenly I realize that this other guy is passing me now. He either was doing exactly the same thing I was doing, in the same place, or he didn't like being passed by me.

I decided to test my theory on the next lap. I slowed down and luckily he did too, so I was able to keep pretty close on his heels until I rounded the same spot again, and this time passed him very deliberately to see what he would do. He did exactly the same thing. I poured it on, he did too - finally we were both sprinting (or at least I was sprinting) and then I dropped back. I didn't get close to him after that- the sprint almost did me in. He stayed well ahead of me for the next couple turns and then disappeared. Like I said, much better shape than me.

I've been chuckling about that encounter ever since. I'm not a very competitive guy, so it's amusing to me that someone would make a simple run like that into a race. Next time I see him, I hope I'm relatively fresh because I'm gonna blow by him just to mess with his mind.

So the other encounter, today's episode: same place, same forty minute run, almost the same spot on the oval. I passed three slower runners, or thought I had, when suddenly I realized that one of them was running right beside me. Okay, that's fine, for a minute. People almost never run at the same pace unless they are actually running together. I, however, run alone and I pretty much like it that way. I certainly didn't want to run with a stranger, so I decided to step it up a bit and move past him more decisively.

He also sped up, running right next to me. In my zone. I didn't really look at him, but he was holding his hands in what could only be described as a prissy fashion. Oh no, I thinks, he's hitting on me.

I don't consider myself to be homophobic - I used to even find it kind of flattering when a guy would show interest in me, but I don't anymore. I don't even generally find it flattering when a woman shows interest in me, so go figure. I don't like it when guys flirt with me, it makes me feel awkward- I'm just not interested and I don't want to have to deal with it. I figure women (and other men too) have to deal with this all the time, so I can't complain too much - but it's annoying. But I've never had anyone hit on me like this before - instant running partner!

Speeding up didn't work, so I abruptly put on the brakes. He made a flapping motion with one hand as I dropped back, like he was encouraging me to take a break. Sorry dude, we are not running together. I run alone.

He slowed way down too.

Actually, I was in a similar situation once, except it was on a highway in Massachusetts and I was driving a tiny Honda Civic and the other guy was driving a big panel truck. I had pulled off to take a leak in a rest area that I quickly realized was a serious gay cruising ground. I didn't let that stop me from taking care of business, and the truck followed me out when I left. He rode on my tail for about ten miles after that no matter what I did - speeding up, slowing down, letting him pass me - he was definitely following me. It freaked me out big time, and I only lost him when I ducked off an exit ramp.

That episode was scary, today's episode was just silly. Dude was kinda glancing back trying to see where I was. Fuck this, I thought, and cranked it up. I read somewhere that that's how you're supposed to get away from a yapping dog if you are on a motorcycle- slow down, and then speed up. Worked with this guy- he apparently wasn't as fit as the old timer from Tuesday. I ended up doing a little fartlek stretch in spite of myself (today was not to be a fartlek day), much to the chagrin of my poor thigh muscles.

And that, my friends, was that.

I hope you have enjoyed my little story.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Post Carnaval Note of Interest

Hey there - just a quick post here, something that occurred to me in the midst of my day. For the first time I think ever, since we've been renting rooms for Carnaval, nobody was robbed or got in a fight or anything bad like that. We had a brief scare when the Disappearing Turks vanished, and wondered if they'd been kidnapped or worse, but as you all know that turned out to be a big fat nothing. We did have some people get squirted - squirt guns were big this year - but nothing worse than that.

Word is that violence in general was down this year, in spite of the strike. Tourism I think was also down, as a result of the strike, which might have had a corollary effect. But I'm pleased nonetheless.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Neighborhood is Terrible

I got reviewed on Airbnb by the Mysterious Disappearing Turks, so finally I know why they left:

Our initial communication was good with our host. He arranged our taxi pick up from the airport. However, when we reach the house, the neighbourhood was terrible. We didn't feel safe to stay there. The room was without a window with a restroom near. It is not a room that we can stay or sleep in. Our host opened the door and say they were sleeping. So we left...

Oh well!

We let people show up early as a courtesy, in case they have an early flight like these folks did. Did they expect we would entertain them/play host at that hour? Just for the record, the room does have a window, although not a very exciting one.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Carnaval, 2012

Carnaval is always odd, but this year is off to a particularly weird start.

We've got an apparently jealous boyfriend calling the house, repeatedly, insisting that we wake up his girlfriend so he can talk to her. That's annoying, but nothing particularly special. I heard a battalion of military police barking some pledge yesterday and let me tell you it was music to my ears, but of course it would have been much stranger if they weren't there, barking their pledges.

Before I continue my tale let me tell you that, as someone who likes to run, Carnaval kinda sucks. It's made it all but impossible for me to run in the places I am accustomed, due to all the infrastructure that gets carted in. I don't know if I'll be able to run at all until this whole ordeal is over.

My last run was almost comical, like running an obstacle course. What normally would have been a quite boring half hour of going around and around Campo Grande became a lesson in crowd control and logistics. I had to run around temporary structures for various functions, past steel barricades set up to shunt people away from places they aren't supposed to be. I ran over wooden platforms and had to detour around a quarter of my circuit because it is now occupied with bleachers. Perhaps most humorous was the great bank of porta-potties I had to navigate on each turn, which were being ported onto a truck, so each time I was dodging a different potty wheeling along on a dolly.

And today? I'd like to run today. Just don't see it happening though, because I don't know where I'd go. If I was a morning person I could run down the principal avenues of Salvador traffic-free, as they are all blocked off- kinda like my Bonfim run. But I'm not a morning person, so it's all moot.

So the really weird thing that happened yesterday concerns this Turkish couple who rented our guest room for four nights via Airbnb. To be honest, I wasn't too excited about the reservation, not because the guy claimed to be a 62 year old dentist and wanted help learning to samba, but more because he didn't really seem to get how the site works and wasn't communicating very clearly. Reservations have been way down this year, and I figured his English wasn't that strong, so we accepted the reservation.

They arrived yesterday morning at 7:30 in the morning, I was very much asleep but I went and opened the door for them- I have a feeling they may have been ringing the bell for some time. The guy was friendly enough, but the woman didn't even look at me or say hello when she walked in to the house. I didn't like that at all. They had the tiniest of bags, smaller than a day-pack, for both of them, for the whole trip. Not a day-pack apiece- one bag. That wouldn't fit one change of clothes for both of them.

I showed the guy where the bathroom was and then he told me to go back to bed, and that they would also lay down for a while. I got up and went to the store, everyone else in the house got up and went about their business. Evani spent the whole day keeping Lucas quiet, as they didn't emerge from the room- all day. When I came home at 6:00, they still hadn't gotten up. We could hear the fan running, so we started wondering what the hell was going on. A long trip? Sure. Jetlag and timechange? Okay. Maybe they took some sleeping aid? Possible. Maybe they were both dead in there? Also bantered about.

I had to fix a bed in the room right above theirs, and I hammered with gusto, determined to wake them up as we were concerned at this point. Nothing. Finally, at about 10:00, I knocked on their door, realizing that it wouldn't be locked, as I hadn't even given them a key for it. I opened the door, and there was nobody there.

They're gone, and there's no sign of them. The bed was at least laid down in, but they took their little bag and split, and have not come back. The thing that is so strange is that we don't know how they got out of the house. Nobody let them out, and the door is always locked. No keys are missing. The most likely scenario is that they just unlocked the door and left, shutting (and thus locking) the door behind them, and we didn't notice that the gate was unlocked.

So what happened? Did they hate the place at first site? The woman's reaction would seem to indicate that... Did they get lost and can't find their way back to the house? Are they in jail/in the hospital? Were they smuggling drugs and using our house as a cover? We have no idea, and they left no note, no email, no nothing. I suppose I should try to find them, but I think they just went somewhere else. Plus they made no effort, and the woman was very rude.

The big question is whether they will cancel their payment for the room, which I suppose is possible. Airbnb doesn't release payment until 24 hours after the guest arrives, stating on the site that "This gives you and your guest time to make sure that everything is as expected." Well, if it wasn't what they expected, that's not our fault. Our house is described and reviewed, and the price is competitive for the location during Carnaval. If they do cancel payment, I will make a fuss as Carnaval comes but once a year and that's why we ask for deposits beforehand. Since Airbnb doesn't provide for a deposit, we may not be able to use them in the future for Carnaval, which would be unfortunate. But I'm getting ahead of myself. If we don't get a payment by tomorrow, then I'll be annoyed.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Strike Over

Well, it's over. Apparently it's been over since last night, but I just found out now, which says a lot about my future as a journalist. You'd think I would have been more on top of that one, especially seeing how I live here, and I was kinda obsessed with it yesterday. But I tend to obsess one day and dismiss the next, plus I was quite busy today with other things.

And they just started a simliar strike in Rio...

And Lucas goes back to school on Monday...

And they just crowned a smokin' super-hot drop-dead gorgeous babe as the queen of Carnaval...

And it's Evani's birthday, and we are going out to dinner!

Life returns to normal, for a few days anyways, until the Carnaval cyclone descends on the city.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Strike Breaking

The news I got this morning, before I'd had my first cup of coffee, was that the strike was over. Turns out it's not, but I think it's a matter of hours at this point.

I'd like to do a little disclaimer at this point, that whenever I write a post like this that could possibly be construed as news it makes me a little nervous. I'm not a reporter, and don't aspire to be. I like telling stories, I don't like checking facts and I hope I'm never quoted as an official source. I've tried to emphasize the stupendous volume of rumors that are flying, and some of what I write is based on rumors. The real, professional press is guilty of the same at times, but more on them in the next paragraph.

The real press, the guys who get paid to write news, have come in for some knocks during this whole thing. They've been accused of making the whole thing look worse than it is, of helping to spread the fear. Not just our local press but the international players as well. I got in a brief argument with a woman at the video store when I compared the families to human shields: she said that they were striking 'as families' and that this business of human shields was an invention of the press. Well, I'll be the first to admit that the press likes sensational stories: it helps garner viewers and hence advertising dollars and hence they keep their jobs, but come on. I'm not gonna Gingrich the press. I think what it must have been like here thirty years ago, during the dictatorship, and I'm glad the press has as much free reign as they do.

So getting on with my not-news post, here's the situation. The armed standoff, the occupation of the building, the human shields - that's all over with now. The leader of the strike has been arrested, they let him slink out the back of the building and into custody. The rest of the occupiers left this morning. Apparently they are negotiating again, not a half mile from where I sit. I expect that this will be resolved quickly, as one of the stickiest demands of the strikers, that all of them be let off without criminal penalties, has been rendered moot. Eleven arrest warrants had been issued, and at least one has been carried out, for the ring-leader Marcos Prisko.

This guy Prisko really screwed up. I think the strikers started out with a lot of public support, I certainly think there are lots of good reasons to pay police officers well: it is dangerous work, you want to attract good people to the profession, and try to keep corruption down as much as possible. However, turns out a lot of these rumors (if you can believe the press) were true: they put a wiretap on Prisko's phone and recorded him planning vandalism and other assorted mayhem during the strike to make the situation worse. In other words, what I was wondering about in my previous post was actually happening: the cops were acting like a protection racket. If you don't pay, things are gonna get bad without our protection. Maybe we'll cause some of that badness, but if you don't pay... you get the picture.

So Prisko's done. What I don't get is that he apparently was done before, he was already an ex-cop, and someone told me that he'd been kicked off the force, which makes him a dubious leader of a police union to begin with. There are more recorded conversations still waiting to come to light. Another recording was of an unnamed woman coordinating with some other dude to not end the strike in Salvador until they could get a strike going in Rio, and other states were to follow.

Getting back to the public support, the other thing these guys really screwed up was with their intention to shut down Carnaval. I had thought they wanted to resolve the whole thing before Carnaval, but apparently they started announcing their intention to take Carnaval down both here and in Rio. That's really dumb. Not only does (practically) everyone love Carnaval, but lots of people depend on it to make money. Everyone from the fancy hotels to the people who collect recyclables. Commerce was already hit bad by the strike, my own included, and I read on the CBS News website yesterday that 10% of international tourists had already cancelled their trips. But these guys were out there with a banner reading 'End Carnaval' or something like that... not smart.

So we'll see how this winds up. A sizable raise was approved some time ago. The governor of Bahia has stated that no non-violent strikers (the majority) will be punished. Our do-nothing mayor apparently came back, finally, from his vacation, but he's been MIA during this whole thing. He was already pretty well hated by the people of Salvador so I guess he doesn't have much to lose.

More non-news as it develops...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sinal


Yesterday I slept late due to some confusion with my alarm clock and as a result I arrived an hour late at the store. I was informed that two guys had come by looking to buy paint. One of them, Sinal, was murdered yesterday.

I only met Sinal a couple times - he was a pichador (Brazilian for 'tagger') but he did some interesting letters as well, wish I had some pictures. Most of these pichadores don't buy anything from me, but I was informed by mutual friends that he was coming by the store to buy paint yesterday. Last night, when I heard the news, I couldn't help wondering if he'd been able to buy the paint if maybe he would have been somewhere else, painting, or stalled just long enough at the store, so that he wouldn't have been killed.

Nah. I asked several people online last night what happened, and everyone fell silent at this question. Finally someone told me that pixação wasn't the only illegal activity he was involved in, and that's probably what led to his death. If that's the case, I think it would have caught up with him sooner or later.

As my friend said last night: "It's fucked: to be black, live in the periphery, want those Nike sneakers that the TV says you have to have; and not give you a decent education, not even a job - makes a brother do what he did." Got that right.

The couple times I met him Sinal was super friendly, and he left a lot of folks who have nothing but good things to say about him. Twenty five years old. I'm sorry I won't get to know him better.

RIP Sinal.

Monday, February 6, 2012

More Chaos Than Usual

The military police are on strike, and the city is fucked as a result. Aku Tyger wrote a nice synopsis of the situation. It's impossible to know what's really happening, there are tons of rumors and suppositions, but this much is clear: the police are on strike, there are a lot more crimes going down, and the army has been called in to 'restore order.'

I keep thinking about the concept of the 'thin blue line' protecting us from anarchy, although in the case of Bahia, I think it's the thin blue illusion, or rather thin tan illusion, as the MPs wear tan, not blue. Although I'm the first to admit that there are times there's nobody you'd rather see than a police officer, the only crimes I think these guys prevent are the ones that might have been committed right in front of where they happen to be standing. Calling the cops is kind of a joke here, at least for the unconnected. No, that's not fair - they do show up, eventually. Sometimes. So it must be the fear of the police that keeps the crime down to sub-war-zone levels.

It's hard to sort out exactly what has happened and what is just talk, but a woman was definitely gunned down in the Praça da Piedade the other night, which is very close to our house, and generally has at least a couple cops standing around. A friend of ours, who is college educated and not from Bahia, says that it stinks of corrupt cops at work - that they pick out social outcasts to execute knowing that this will sow terror and not cause reprisals. If this is true, then the MPs amount to little more than a protection racket: if you don't pay your protection money, the protectors start to cause problems. But I'm diving into suppositions here.

I have seen some soldiers patrolling the streets, real live olive green clad soldiers with carbines, but not many of them. I've also seen some military police - the same ones that are on strike, also called 'soldiers.' But the people are panicked, and life as usual is largely disrupted. Walking around on Friday, I heard a couple people say 'arrastão,' something I wrote about in another post, where a gang of bad guys do a bunch of car-jackings at once, or rob a whole bunch of stores at once. Coincidentally, the same mall where the other arrastão didn't happen in my other post was also rumored to have been robbed, or attempted to be robbed, last week. Apparently they closed the whole mall down. Lots of businesses have been closed, and the city is under a semi-self-imposed curfew as everyone scurries home to avoid any problems.

So how does all this effect me? Well, I have been cautioned not to go out for my runs, and I've mostly complied. I don't figure I'm in too much danger because if the corrupt cops picked me off they might set off an international incident (yeah right, oh vainglorious, self-important me). The one who has been most effected is Lucas, who had his kung fu class cancelled last week, and was supposed to start school today, but that got postponed as well.

Apparently a bunch of cops have occupied an administrative building here in the city, and they have brought their families in with them. I heard that a thousand troops had been dispatched to bring the occupation to an end, but (now this is rumor here) this has essentially turned into an armed standoff with the cops on one side and the soldiers on the other. And the families, the wives and children? Well, from where I stand I'd call them human shields. Quite willing ones, according to an article I just read online, which claims that some of them are wearing bullet proof vests. Some of them at least - I'm not sure a child can willingly act as a human shield.

The cops have their reasons, I'm sure, for the strike, and they may be very good ones. I'm also sure they did this deliberately at the height of tourist season and just a couple weeks before Carnaval. But I gotta say it makes Salvador look really bad. If I was planning a vacation here for Carnaval, which is insanely expensive, would I do so if what is already known to be a dangerous time in a dangerous town was going to be even more dangerous? I hope I'd change my plans.

But that's not going to happen. They'll end the standoff, and the strike, before Carnaval one way or another. It may not be pretty, and I'm sure we'll never know what really goes down, but they'll end it. And as much as I get frustrated with the incompetent, corrupt, hot-headed fools that make up the authority in this place, I really don't think they'll be stupid enough to hurt any of the human shields. Brazil is on the ascendent after all, bizarre as it seems at times, and we wouldn't want any international incidents to muck it up.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Curso e Tal

Here I am, home again on a Saturday night once again. It's my own fault - I left a party as soon as I could this evening. I just wasn't feeling it - I wasn't drinking, so the drunk people were starting to really annoy me, I hardly knew anyone, and I couldn't stop ogling this lovely college student which made me feel aged and lecherous. I fled the scene.

Dejected I may be, a tad, but I've had a busy day. It started early, as I signed myself up for a free art course that is offered at the MAM - the modern art museum that is just down the hill from our house. Silly me - I've lived in this house seven years now and I only just discovered that they offer free courses there. Well, actually, I've known they have courses there for a long time, but I only found out they were free and became interested a couple months ago. As luck would have it, this was right after I opened my store, which had been opening on Saturday mornings but now will *not* at least until June. I didn't bother to ask my lovely wife if she'd open the store for me on Saturdays - she's made it pretty clear just how interested she is in participating with the business enterprise and I've decided not to push it. If I miss any sales, so be it. I really wanted to take a class.

As luck would also have it, the only course available on Saturdays was gravura em metal, or etching, which was exactly the course I wanted to take. I've done a bit of etching- my dad had a fully equipped print shop in his studio. In fact, he had a beautiful brand new etching press that would have been the envy of most college printmaking programs. He did some beautiful etchings and taught us how it was doLinkne. He liked the little etchings I did quite a bit, always being very supportive of my artistic endeavors. And now I'm going to do some more. It's going to be fun. We're going to do a couple months of monoprinting, and then get into the acid and do the real deal etchings. I only have to pay for a few materials - a liter of kerosene, some paper, some disposable gloves, and all the rest is taken care of. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

The instructor, who is named Evandro, seems like a very nice and mellow guy. The first two classes have dragged a bit, mostly watching videos and listening to lectures. Today's lecture was particularly agonizing as I had a snot snorter sitting next to me and honking away every minute or two for an hour and a half. Never should have written that post- it's made me hyper-sensitive to the phenomenon and I'm just gonna have to deal with it.

I did get to do a couple monoprints at the end of the time today, and I would have done more if I hadn't received a call from a distraught customer with a clogged paint can- I left early to set him straight.

So looks to be fun and I'll post some pics of my work at some point, also of the space - it's right on the water and a pretty cool spot for an art class. And I'm up past my bedtime and must be sleeping now, goodnight!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Busy busy

Man, if I had one day a week like the day I had today at the store the business would be doing great. If every day were like today, I'd need employees and would be thinking about finding a new location already.

Leaving the house, I got a call from a customer asking if I was already at the store, then assuring me he would drop by shortly. Then, I had people waiting for me when I got to the store. I had about half an hour to myself after they left, but not enough time to complete, or even start, my typical morning routine.

Then the day started in earnest.

I had one customer after another, all day long. I didn't even get a decent meal in, just a couple bread/cheese rolls and an orange juice. I sold a lot of paint. Finally there was a lull and I went to the bank to pay some bills, hanging up my 'back in ten minutes' sign. Unfortunately, there were about fifteen people in line at the bank, which generally means a twenty minute wait or longer. When I got back to the store, I had two customers waiting for me, who proceeded to buy even more paint. Two more customers came in at about 4:30, and spent well over an hour picking out two dozen cans of paint. I've discovered some customers can be excruciatingly slow, which I guess makes sense- there are a lot of options and the material is relatively expensive so they don't want to get the wrong paint and end up regretting it.

Next thing I knew it was 6:00 and I was exhausted. A couple American friends who are visiting showed up so we could walk down to this little neighborhood and see some of the paint I sold that day getting applied to a wall. That's another story, one of several I must needs recount, if I ever find the time.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Phlegm

This is a complaining post, and kinda gross, so if you're not in the mood please skip to the next item in your reader. And my apologies in advance to my Brazilian readers (all one of you) for making broad generalizations.

I was leaving an event on Saturday, and noticing the girl seated at the door was kinda cute, when suddenly she said "Snort." She didn't look quite so cute after that.

Actually she didn't say snort, as that implies the use of vocal cords, rather, she was actually making the sound via her nasal passages - presumably snorting mucus back up them.

I've started to notice that this is extremely common here, and apparently not a social faux pas. I've had people, presumably moneyed, educated people, on airplanes snorting away repeatedly, and on my street snorting and hawking is nearly constant. Lucas had a classmate whose mother must have some kind of allergies or something, as she is constantly snorting as she converses with me. Use a kleenex, I think, please.

It's not universal, however, I've discussed it with my wife and she thinks it's as gross as I do. I do wonder what's going on - I know Americans (um, 'Unitedstatesians') are considered crass, so we must do things that other people find offensive and are completely oblivious... is that what's happening here as well?

As I write this the woman who works in the store next to mine has snorted at least three times. That's what got me thinking about it.

The worst thing about this, much like with littering, is trying to get Lucas not to do it. He sees everyone else snorting away, without shame or repercussions, so he doesn't see a problem with himself doing it as well. I am trying to disabuse him of this, with very little effect. So far.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Race

Welp, I did it. I ran the Corrida Sagrada- all 6.8 kilometers or 4.2 miles of it, and it took me just under 36 minutes to do so. This was actually faster than I expected, so that was a pleasant surprise. I got myself a medal for participating, plus a bag with a banana, an apple, and an energy bar in it.

What I didn't get was any photos of my moment of glory, although I've heard reports that I was sighted on television- not sure I believe them. The race was a trip, but more about that in a minute. First I'd like to reflect upon the time I walked to Bonfim in 2009, with dubious results. I developed a severe cramp and in my post about it I whined about my impending old age. Well I'll tell you friend, you can be old and you can run fast- there were folks 10 or 20 years older than me running today who came in with better times than my own.

This post isn't turning out the way I had anticipated. I'm tired and should just go to bed. But let me choke out a couple more paragraphs before I do.

The race was strange for a lot of reasons. First and most obviously because I'd never participated in anything like that before, and had no idea what I was supposed to do. Unfortunately, that's when I was apparently caught on camera, when I was standing around like a dork with no clue. As I looked around, everyone looked in better shape than me, so I opted to start at the back of the pack. Once we started running things improved. I quickly discovered I was in better shape than many of the participants, so I got to pass a whole bunch of people which is always fun. I hit my stride and enjoyed having the road, normally a nightmare of traffic and pedestrians, pretty much all to ourselves.

Probably the weirdest thing about the race is that we were not the main attraction - we were barely an appetizer. All around us, for the entire distance, people were setting up coolers and stocking them with beer - preparing for the crush of thousands that were to come several hours later. Many people looked surprised to see us, and there was a fair bit of half-teasing, half-mocking encouragement shouted at us. "Vai Coroa!" was quite popular, a coroa being someone getting on into middle age (it also means 'crown'), but whether this was being shouted at me or another coroa I couldn't say.

Starting the race at 7:30, I arrived at the finish line at a little past eight, which is insanely early for me to be out of the house, let alone finished with my main task for the day. It was extremely pleasant to be at the Igreja de Bonfim so early, as it was mellow and not crowded - I was able to catch my breath, eat my fruit, and tie some ribbons onto the gates of the church before I started back. One of the only things I brought with me was a little bag filled with suntan lotion that I pinned into my waistband, so I slathered up and started for home. It took me over two hours to get there. I got to see the whole procession in reverse, and it devolved from anticipation to debauchery in a hurry. I ran into several people I knew, including my wife. I was back home at just after noon.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the whole day is that I didn't have so much as a sip of beer. Better yet- I didn't miss it.