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.