Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ugly Head Reared

Recently we hosted a German couple at our house and they left us the following review:
“Mark is fluent in English which is very helpful and rare in Brazil. The room itself was exactly as in the pictures, clean and with a comfortable bed. We didn't really like the bathroom, because it smelled gross and we made the first and only time aquaintance with cockroaches in a house. Unfortunately the room is on the ground floor on the side of the road, which is very dirty and smelly. All day and and half the night there were people in front of the room, talking, laughing, screaming... When leaving and returning you had to fasten and undo 3 (!) locks and it was not recommended to leave the house and turn right (!!). We felt very unsafe and uncomfortable as whites in Mark's neighborhood. In comparison to many other (website deleted) opportunities in Brazil so far, we would NOT recommend this place (exception: black males who can live with the circumstances). We are very sorry to say that.”
Needless to say I was shocked and infuriated by this.  Street dirty and noisy?  Yep, aware of that.  Cockroach in the house?  Say it isn't so!  Gross smell in the bathroom?  That's a new one.  Neighborhood only suitable for black males?  Go f*ck yourself people.

I had hoped to write a long, carefully considered post on this topic; I spent a huge amount of time thinking about it and lost most of a night's sleep as well.  But as is so often the case the days go sliding by and if I don't write something right now (Sunday night) chances are I won't write anything at all.  It's getting late and I should be asleep so I'm going to have to keep it short.  Let me say only that I received a lot of support from friends and family when I mentioned what happened on Facebook, not least of all my elderly mother who has visited us four times and has not felt threatened here, despite being neither black nor male.  Also the website in question, which I have decided not to name, did the right thing when I complained and removed the review, stating that it violated their content policy.

My critique I will leave in the form of the response I was planning to leave to the review, in the event it was not removed from the site.  Here it is:
This review is inappropriate and borderline racist.  I wrote this couple a follow up email, asking if something had happened to them, if they had been discriminated against as white people in my neighborhood.  They didn't answer, which could mean that they didn't receive my email, or that they chose not to reply, but I think the truth is that, in fact, nothing happened to them that could be described as racial discrimination.  I have lived in this neighborhood for over ten years and I have never felt discriminated against on the basis of my race, and as far as I know none of the other hundreds of guests that have stayed with us ever have either.  In all probability, they felt uncomfortable as obvious foreigners in the midst of a sea of dark faces, in a neighborhood that is often chaotic and definitely loud.  Discomfort is not the same as discrimination and they should not be confused: protections exist against discrimination, effective or no, and indeed white people are sometimes subject to discrimination although not nearly to the degree of other races.  If you are going to claim discrimination, be prepared to back it up, at least with your version of a specific incident.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The White Imperialist Strikes Back

Today, as you can see, I went back and finished my painting.  I waited for a day that I had to myself without other obligations so I could finish the damn thing, take my photo, and split.  This is in case my nemesis Johnny Bongos, the misguided revolutionary, decides to write more obscenities on it this evening.  I have a feeling he won't, but you never know.

I deliberated long and hard (way too long and hard) about what to do with my damaged painting, initially wanting to put a big bomb over the whole thing and forget about it - I may still do that if The Nemesis chooses to manifest.  Finally I decided to fix and finish the piece, mostly because it was so close to being finished and I'd been so pleased with how it was going.  If I'd had my druthers I would have spent more time on it, but it's already taken up too much of my time, so I just did what I could and on to the next project.

should'a taken a 'before' image as well

There's a debate in the graffiti community about the effect that the internet has had on the scene internationally, kind of like how there is a debate about how the internet has had an effect on... pretty much every element of our lives.  Probably the most scorned facet of this discussion is how the internet has allowed people to paint something in their backyard, throw it online, and start bragging about their mad skills.  I've heard people say (quite recently in fact) "I'm just doing it for the photo," and you know what?  That's exactly what I did right here.  Not to mention the fact that this is practically in my backyard, although not quite backyardy enough to be safe from the likes of the malevolent pixador Johnny Bongos!!

Speaking of Mr. Bongos, he never did come by the store to explain to me what the hell his problem is, although he did walk right by it on Saturday and didn't so much as glance in my direction standing on the sidewalk.  I debated calling out to him but I have been counseled repeatedly by my wife to just let it go and forget about the dude.  I did hear second hand that he was claiming that somehow I represent American imperialism to him (and the rest of the Salvador street painting scene perhaps), so I was hoping he would come by the store so I could disabuse him of this foolish notion.  I also heard that this Maconha guy (see previous post) is his cousin, which presents a much more likely scenario for his aggressive act.  He did take down the "White imperialism" post from his Facebook page, or at least made it private.

Several people, after viewing the "Fuck USA" photos have attributed his act to "Emoção," or emotion.  I'm not entirely sure I get this, but I do know that here in Brazil emoção is serious shit.  When there's emoção going on, best get out of the way.  My hope is that, if it was emoção, it won't strike again and dude will leave me alone and we can both get on with our lives.  Not that I believe for a second that he was nearly as bothered by this whole thing as I was.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


I recently received a book in the mail called Get Up, Stay Up by Danny Crofts.  It's a how-to guide of methods for creating graffiti in the current urban environment, at least as it pertains to Europe, as I believe it was written by a European.  There are chapters on clothing, equipment, evading surveillance, even what to do if you're being prosecuted.  There is a disclaimer at the beginning, but the book is clearly a strong advocate of the go-out-and-break-some-laws way of making graffiti.  It makes the claim that graffiti has gotten away from its vandal roots, and every writer should have the skills put forth in the book to keep it real.  It dismisses the kind of elaborate productions that cannot be produced illegally as 'the glossy exterior of graffiti.'

It also has a chapter on 'beef,' an annoying but descriptive and long standing term describing the conflicts that inevitably arise between artists who are disputing spaces in what remains essentially anarchy in the streets; graffiti is still illegal, even here in Salvador.  As you can see from the photo above, taken this week, I've got some beef on my hands.  Here they generally call it treta.  Google Translate offers the amusing translation 'bullshit,' I agree with that, wholeheartedly.  The second suggestion is 'beef.'

I'll talk more about my treta in a minute, but first I want to continue with my discourse on graffiti literature.  I didn't really care for Danny's book, as I don't agree with that philosophy of making graffiti.  Putting all the breaking of laws part of it aside, that kind of art usually has to be made very quickly, which limits substantially what is possible to create.  I like possibilities.  The quasi-legality of graffiti here in Brazil and other parts of South America has given rise to a vast range of styles, much of which is dismissed in most of the world as 'not graffiti,' or, god forbid, 'street art.'

Another problem that I have with subscribing to that way of making graffiti, and I'm digressing only a tiny bit, (I'll get back on track in the next paragraph I promise!) is that it exemplifies the kind of conformity you ironically see within subcultures - the way that people profess to be out of the mainstream, but you can only be part of the group if you stick to its often strict rules.  I first noticed this when I was in college, where the counterculture was dominated by Deadheads and a few post-punk types - as a professor of mine pointed out, "Everyone (at UNH) looks the same, and even the people who look different look the same."  People who are truly different, truly unique, aren't going to fit into these groups any more than they would the mainstream.  You may have the best graffiti writer in a city getting mad respect because he exemplifies the current model of what graffiti 'is,' but it's the batshit crazy writer who is doing something completely different who is going to (maybe) come up with something truly interesting and potentially much more influential.  This is true for many things, not just graffiti.

I would not presume (okay, I promised only one paragraph, but I'm on a roll, and this is germane) to put myself in the category of the previously described batshit writer, but I've never really fit in comfortably to the subcultures I've subscribed to, and I have always veered far from the mainstream.  Here in Brazil my differences from the local population are too numerous to enumerate, and likewise for the other graffiteiros here in the city.  Not least of which being that I'm about twice as old as most of them.  But although I will never be a ground breaker, a revolutionary figure who changes the way graffiti is made for all time, I do make a conscious effort to do something different from what everyone else is doing, and nobody else here in Salvador paints like me.  Additionally, this long standing awareness of being different from those around me is what I think has made it possible for me to live as long as I have here in Brazil.

So - back to the literature - reading Danny's book made me wonder about those roots of graffiti he is paying tribute to.  My dad lived in New York City during the seventies, and he told me how much he loved all the artwork on the trains during that period, although he though his opinion was probably in the minority.  This was the much vaunted Golden Age of Graffiti, what gave rise to the global movement that is modern graffiti.  I couldn't help wondering: how many of the paramilitary tactics described in Get Up, Stay Up were actually being employed by these writers in NYC during the seventies?  I had a theory that the environment might have been a bit more like modern day Brazil.  Notice I say a bit more, I don't think NY was ever a place that writers had the freedom to do what we do here, as we can paint, generally, completely out in the open in the middle of the day.

A quick search led me to a book that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with a passing interest in graf - Training Days - The Subway Artists Then and Now by Henry Chalfant and Sacha Jenkins.  Henry is a legend in NY graf as he was out there documenting it as it was going on, co-authored another famous book and made a famous documentary but if I don't skip some of these details I'm never going to finish this post.  I was going to write about my treta and look where I am!  This book both dispelled and confirmed some of my theories about this period.  It consists entirely of interviews with the artists about their experiences and also their reflections on where the scene is today.  Clearly these guys were running from the cops, and getting arrested, and getting into fights with other writers.  One of them even described carrying a gun for protection. They were also stealing all of their paint, which as a store owner I find a bit uncomfortable, and even Danny doesn't come out in favor of this in his book.  But on the other hand, the penalties for getting caught painting trains were much more lenient, and several of the interviews describe spending long periods, even the whole weekend, in the train yards.  One guy said he only painted during the day in the yards.  There is no mention of electronic surveillance.  This kind of thing would be completely impossible today.  It sounds like NYC was too broke at the time to invest in the types of anti-graffiti measures that are common nowadays, although still out of reach for police forces here in Salvador at least - the though of a cop dusting a can of paint for fingerprints here is laughable.  But maybe someday - things are changing and there have been signs of a crackdown.

Okay, end chapter one.  I've wanted to write that bit for some time, and I suppose it should probably be its own post, but I never take the time to write anymore so I'm shoehorning that bit onto my treta.  As a bit of a transition, and this should really be its own post as well, and hopefully I can keep this short, let me get back to the element of time as it relates to graffiti.  This is something that interests me greatly.  Danny lives in a world where all 'real' graffiti is done extremely quickly - true, they can paint entire trains in ten minutes or whatever but that's because there's a whole technology of high pressure (ie fast) paint and they go out in carefully planned raids with twenty guys, each with their assigned role for the piece.  One of the beauties of spray paint is its capacity to paint large areas very quickly.  But as I worked on my first Big Wall (which just recently got covered over when the building was renovated), a piece that took me months to finally complete (mostly because I'm lazy) I became interested in this idea of making graffiti over time, and making that interesting to the viewer who can watch the piece evolve.  That's the kind of thing we can do here that wouldn't be possible in most of the world. I've wanted to do more of this but wouldn't you know it?  I haven't had the time.  In fact, most of the stuff I paint these days is more akin to what Danny talks about in his book, simple, quick, repetitive.  I paint my pollywog rexes and my stupid carnivorous plants because they are quick; not because I'm afraid of being arrested, but because I just don't have time to make anything more elaborate.

Which brings me to my most recent piece, the mangled, almost finished thing at the top of this post.  I take my son to school at seven in the morning, which is completely contrary to my natural circadian rhythms, but I realized a while ago that it gives me an opportunity: the hour or so between dropping him off and getting ready to open the store is a perfect time to do lots of things - including graffiti.  I decided to rework a wall that I had marked right after the election with the intention of doing something more elaborate.  I had a sketch I did a couple years before that I wanted to put up, so I decided to go for it.  I went down to see the condition of the wall (it's quite close to my house), and this is what it looked like:

My letters, the KZA, are in pretty good shape, but some pixadores have added a rolled piece (done with a foam roller) around it.  I should mention that this wall is about 4 meters tall, so there's plenty of vertical space, but this guy Lazi has opted to crowd in right over the top of my letters. This other guy Maconha (which means marijuana) opted to roll the crosspiece of his A right up to the edge of my own letter A - it's hard to see here, because it kind of trails off, not enough paint on the roller.

OK - so the rules of the street are like this: you don't cover someone else up, not at all.  This is quite strict here in Salvador, more so than in a lot of other places.  We don't cover pixadores, and they don't cover us.  This 'agreement' means that there is very little of the kind of writing over and crossing out that goes on in a lot of places.  Salvador has tons of walls!  For those of you new to my blog and new to Brazilian graffiti, 'Pixo' is an aggressive form of tagging that is done as illegally as possible - much more in line with what Danny writes about in his book than the kind of stuff I do.  What these guys did was technically 'allowed', although obnoxious.  The wall is four meters tall guys!  Give me some space fercryinoutloud.  Lazi is not a guy you want treta with, but I thought that what this guy Maconha did (not even realizing it was a person, I thought they were just singing the praises of the magical herb) was over the top.  I felt he was writing in space that I had marked for myself, and I didn't feel that I should have to shove my piece over to the left because of a single stroke of a 5 centimeter roller without enough paint on it.

This apparently was a mistake, but I decided to stake my claim to that section of the wall.  This is how I blocked it out:

I admit it - I covered up maybe a foot?  two feet?  of dude's roller.  Oh the lack of respect!  Note that I've tried to avoid painting over Lazi's stuff even though it looks like shit that way.

Now I've got literally about 40 minutes a day to work on this thing before I go to work, so the whole process is taking a long time, but I'm in Brazil so it doesn't really matter.  I spent two days just scraping the wall, another two days to get it to where it was in the photo above, and then I started laying in the colors.  Early in the process I ran into one of my neighbors and a customer of mine at the store, a pixador who writes Bongos - he's always been friendly towards me and he mentioned that he saw me going down the hill with some paint and asked if I was painting something, I made a joke that I was retired or something to that effect.

This is what I accomplished up until the day it got ruined:

I won't say it was almost done, but it was damn close.  I had some details to finish and then some corrections and then put the outlines on (the outlined part was just a test to see how it was working), and then more corrections.

As I was working on it on this morning, Wednesday I guess, some guy called out to me: "Hey, why did you paint over me?"  Turns out it was this guy Maconha, and he wasn't happy about what I'd done to his masterpiece.  He was rude to me right off, and I'm not the deer-in-the-headlights kid from New England I used to be, so I responded in kind.  I said he had entered into the area I had painted, he denied it, I told him I had photos, and he walked off.

I realized immediately that my painting was in jeopardy.  A lot of these guys look for excuses like this to create beef, some of them enjoy it.  Some people have speculated that these guys crowded my work deliberately as a form of disrespect and then jumped at the opportunity when I crossed the line, no pun intended.  I mentioned to a couple people that I thought my piece would get trashed, and sure enough it did.  Let's have another look at it:

Two weeks of work destroyed in thirty seconds.  "Fuck U.S.A" (sic) is quite legible, the scribble next to it reads... "Bongos."  As in my neighbor, who always has been friendly to me, who is (was) my 'friend' on Facebook.  Note the splatters of silver paint below the signature.

Now I may not be the deer-in-the-headlights kid anymore, but I'm not the quickest draw south of the equator either, so my immediate thought was that this guy Maconha had destroyed my work and written Bongos so I'd blame him instead.  I was so convinced of this that I posted in our WhatsApp graffiti groups that I wanted to talk to Bongos to make sure it wasn't him (he's always been cool with me!) before I started accusing this other guy.  And it's a good thing that I didn't accuse the other guy, because I looked at some of Bongos' stuff online and I realized it was exactly the same.  I had messaged him on The Facebook to get in touch with me (I doubt it was you, but if it was I need to know) and he hadn't replied, but when I asked if it really was him he admitted it.  I asked him what the hell and he said speaking in person would be better.  Agreed.  That's the last I've heard from him.

I was enraged.  I'm still really pissed, and I feel like an idiot for defending the guy, but I'm starting to calm down.  This is extremely important: I need to calm down.  Doing something stupid will only make the situation worse.  If I was twenty years younger and six inches taller and had more of an attitude I might start a war with the dude, but I absolutely cannot do that - I have way too much to lose.  As I mentioned I have very little time, I don't want to spend what time I have writing over his tags and having him write over mine.  Not to mention that I spend about fifty hours a week in a tiny store by myself which is well known to all the graffiteiros and pixadores.  I don't want to be looking over my shoulder.  I will not walk around with a weapon.  I am exquisitely unprepared, both in terms of my disposition and in my role as business owner and father, to take on a stupid fight with a pixador.

And he knows that, which is probably why he did it.

Which brings us to the next question: why the hell did he do it??

My best bet is that he is a friend of Maconha's, and 'bought the fight' from him.  Let me mention the fact that this guy Bongos is studying for his master's in philosophy, if I'm not mistaken.  Or at least he was.  Showed up at the store with a book by Sartre one time, which really surprised me, especially considering how little most Brazilians like to read in general.  So he's not just some bonehead moron.  But then I discovered something on his profile:

Before I go any further let me make a tiny disclaimer.  Although I was his Facebook friend and I am not anymore, this post of his is available for public consumption - anyone can look at it.  So I'm not exposing his private photos.  And Bongos is not his real name either, obviously.

What the picture says is 'White Imperialism, not here!' and it shows presumably his hand and presumably the same can of silver paint he used to trash my piece - it obviously leaked and there are splatters of silver paint all over the piece.  He probably bought the fucking can in my store.

Now I hate to jump to conclusions, hence the 'presumablys' in the previous paragraph, but 'Fuck USA' + silver paint + Bongos on my piece = am I the imperialist he is referring to?  I honestly don't know, but this makes me very uneasy.

I showed these photos to some other pixadores who know him.  I'm showing the photos to everyone, it's the closest thing I can get to justice, getting everyone to talk about it.  I may not paint as much as these guys but as the owner of the graffiti shop I know pretty much everyone in the scene.  The pixadores laughed long and hard.  I said if he wants to rail against imperialism, why isn't he painting up all the McDonald's and the Subways in the city?  As one of these guys pointed out: for that matter, why is he using Facebook?

So now I need to wait and see what he has to say for himself.  Not sure how long that's going to take, and I don't think pestering him is a good idea, although it is an option.  The best thing I could do is just 'swallow the frog' as they say here, and move on.

One last thing: another possible motivation for what he did?  Envy.  Dude paints way more than I do, but I could paint once a year and I'd still have way more skills than he ever will. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Today I met one of the most famous graffiti artists in the world, although I’m not quite sure which one it was.  His name is either Otávio or Gustavo, and the reason I’m being vague is that he is one of two identical twin brothers known as OsGemeos, or ‘TheTwins’.

I heard a few weeks ago that OsGemeos were coming to town as part of a project they have been working on for a few years called “Wholetrain” where they arrive in a Brazilian city (they’ve painted all over the world, but this project appears to be limited to Brazil) with a bunch of other artists and paint the local trains.  I read about it and thought it sounded awesome, and made a Facebook post to that effect - despite Brazil being a tremendous source of world class graffiti artists, most of them live south of here and rarely make it to our fair(ish) city.

I actually found out about the whole thing because another graffiti artist, from here, posted about it in the context of complaining about the fact that none of these projects ever seem to go to local artists.  There were a lot of comments agreeing with him.  I re-posted the news, from a much more positive “hey isn’t this great that this is happening” point of view.  I got some positive responses, but the majority of the comments I received were by people that ran the gamut from unimpressed to indignant.  The nature of these comments were threefold:
  1. The aforementioned lack of local talent involved
  2. The shocking amount of money the government must have invested in the project, when there is no money available for any arts related projects right now
  3. The fact that the train is getting a cosmetic makeover when what it really needs is a complete rebuild as it’s a slow, unreliable, piece of shit and an embarrassment in a city that really needs better public transport. 
There are some groups on social media related to the local graffiti scene and apparently there was a royal shit storm going on on them - I only heard about this second hand as I just don’t have the patience to participate in groups like that.  When I brought up the project with my customers there was a lot of bitching and moaning that went on, and surprisingly little support for the whole thing.

Last week someone asked me if OsGemeos had arrived yet, and I was startled by the question - usually things happen at such a snail’s pace here, I didn’t expect them to show  up for months, or even a year.  He sent me a link telling me they were due this weekend.  And they were arriving with some major global talent in tow.

As I read the article I learned a few things about the project. The most important thing I learned was that this project is entirely funded by the artists, and does not involve the allocation of tax dollars, which dispenses with item two in my previous list.  I spoke to a friend of mine, one of the few graffiti artists in the city who makes a living at it, and he had been asked to participate along with a couple other local artists, so there was to be some local participation.  As for item three on my list, yes, the trains are horrible, and should be modernized.  But if a group of the most famous graffiti artists are coming to town, and want to paint your train, for FREE, wouldn’t it be kind of silly to turn them down?  "Sorry guys, could you come back in ten years and paint the trains once we've got them fixed up?  Thanks!"

I also had been thinking a lot about item number one on my list.  When I discovered that this was a project that OsGemeos put together a long time ago, and have been working on over the course of years, in lots of cities in Brazil, it just made sense to me that Salvador should get its turn.  Indeed, lots of big cities the world over have world-class graffiti pieces, many by OsGemeos, shouldn’t we get one too?  It’s not like the city government is shelling out 100 grand to bring these guys here when the cash could go to local artists, they did it on their own.  And they made it happen - they came up with a project and executed it.  Most of these local guys don’t have it together to do so.  So quit yer bitchin’.

Why should I even have to defend a project like this?

I messaged my friend yesterday to see if the crew had arrived as promised.  He had been so put off by the shit storm going on on social media that he was seriously considering not participating despite being invited.  Turns out they had arrived as scheduled, and he’d gone, and he’d painted.  I lamented the fact that I hadn’t tagged along, but he explained that they were trying to keep it quiet and had told him not to bring anyone with him.  I told him I really wanted to meet the guys, but I probably wouldn’t close the store on a Monday to make the trek down to the train station - it wasn’t close by.  Then he convinced me that I should make the effort.

I should mention that the article I read last week included a list of artists that were to accompany OsGemeos, and a couple of them stood out.  One is Nunca, who is another of the most famous Brazilian graffiti artists, and who also met my brother in Mexico a couple years back.  I mostly wanted to meet him to let him know this, which is a little silly, but I think if you’re going to meet famous people you should make the most of whatever personal connection you can.  The other name on the list was Aryz.  Now, I think OsGemeos are great.  I think Nunca is great too.  But Aryz, no joke, is one of my absolute favorite graffiti artists in the world.  I really wanted to meet him.

Now is probably a good time to post some links to these guys: OsGemeos, Nunca, Aryz

I’m really not much of a, what do you call it?  A Famous Person Chaser?  A VIP Schmoozer?  A Starry-Eyed Fan Boy?  You people have a word for this in English and I can’t think of it right now.  Basically I’m trying to tell you that I was kind of dreading putting myself out in this way, uninvited, showing up out of the blue to meet the famous graffiti artists.  There’s a great phrase in Portuguese for this kind of behavior, it’s called ‘Cara de Pau’ or ‘face of wood,’ someone who just doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks.  I’m not what I’d generally call a cara de pau, although I’ve gotten a bit better at it over the years living here in Bahia.

So I went.  Closed the store in the middle of the morning and caught a cab to the train station.  When I arrived I promptly ran into another friend and local graffiti artist.  He had also been invited to participate in the project.  Now I had an in!  I had brought a bag of spray can caps with me as well, on the off-chance that they might need some, my plan B was to use them, in true Cara de Pau style, to talk my way past security if need be.  Didn't look like I'd need to.  My friend told me he’d try to introduce me to the famous people and disappeared.  He seemed kinda amped up, which is how people act around famous people I guess.

I stood there for a minute and then decided to pay the train fare and at least get onto the platform.  It was only 50 centavos.  Best investment I’ve made in some time.  The trains were already in use, so I checked them out - there were also people on the platforms who were obviously graffiti artists, most of them wielding cameras.  I started to talk to them, my inner Cara de Pau coming out.  One of the guys told me his name is Blue, and I later wondered if he might have been Blu, another of my absolute favorite artists.  Turns out it wasn’t, but Blue’s work is great too.  Then I saw my friend come out of the big shed where they keep the trains, along with a group of people including OsGemeos.  He waved me over.

I think my friend wasn’t sure which one of the twins he was introducing me to, which is why he didn’t introduce him by name.  I (belately) welcomed him to Salvador and thanked him for bringing his project here, and told him if they needed any paint I could help them out.  Turns out they didn't - they'd already sent 500 cans, unused, back to São Paulo.  It was a brief conversation and I only made a mild fool of myself, the whole Cara de Pau thing abandoning me in my time of need.  I didn’t ask for an autograph or a photo, which makes me feel noble and less groveling, but here I am writing about the whole thing in great detail on my blog, so maybe I am a Starry-Eyed Fan Boy after all.

After that I had an even more brief encounter with Aryz, but I did manage to shake his hand and tell him I love his work.  I got the impression he hears that a lot.

And Nunca?  I completely forgot about Nunca until I was on the bus back to the store.

I must say I had expected much more elaborate paintings on the trains, but it appears that the artists went more for an old school 70’s NYC style approach, which may be part of the whole idea, I’ll have to read up on that when I’m back online.  There was only one really elaborate car, painted by OsGemeos themselves, at least that I saw.  I got this great video of it as it was pulling out of the station:

I didn’t see anything painted by Aryz, so I’ll have to see if I can spot it online.  Unfortunately I don’t live anywhere near the train line (although it does go to Paripe) so I won’t have the pleasure of seeing them go by, but at least I got to participate in a tiny way.

I’m glad I decided to close the store and make the trip.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mil Muros 2.0?

Hummm I never did write about our 24 hour painting, and it certainly looks like I'm not going to right now - who has time to write anything anyways?  But I will post a photo:

I will let you guess which part was my contribution.  Cool project, except for the dubious anatomy and the hideous faces on the principal characters, but I wasn't going to write about this was I?

Instead I will write, briefly, about the fact that it appears I am moving the store.  This just after I got written up in the magazine Muito, which is included in the Sunday edition of the local paper A Tarde.  Kinda like getting written up in the New York Times Magazine, except that A Tarde is not the New York Times, just like Salvador is not like New York, just like Largo Dois de Julho is not the East Village, as much as I might wish it was.  Here's a picture of the article:

Somebody told me a full page ad in this magazine costs 10,000 reais although I have not been able to independently confirm this.  Goody goody for me!!!  They sought me out to write the article.

So what am I doing right after getting this great free publicity?  Well, it looks like I'm moving the store about a kilometer away from its current location.  Why, you may ask?  In short, because the people who run the building where the store is currently domiciled are idiots and assholes.  They are bloodsuckers, incompetents, and shysters.  They are morons, sycophants, and carpetbaggers.  They should go bankrupt and then they should go to hell, in that order.  I hold them in low regard.

Here's the deal: the only good thing about where the store currently is is that it's cheap.  Quite cheap.  It's hidden away in a basement and nobody can find the place, the building gets no maintenance and we don't even have anyone to clean the bathrooms.  The owner basically bleeds off the rent that comes in and ignores everything else related to the building.  The stores are bad, and apparently the apartments upstairs are worse.  Yesterday, the steel staircase that leads down to the dungeon where the store is located finally rusted through one of its primary rails; collapse was imminent, until I shored it up with a piece of wood.

But you want to know something interesting?  According to the 'super' of the building, these problems are our (the renters) fault and responsibility.  Apparently they did a big renovation about 10 years ago and we didn't do our part to maintain the building.  Their solution?  Charge us for the overdue maintenance.  To the tune of 1500 reais each.

There are some shared bathrooms in the building for our use.  The doors to these bathrooms are literally falling apart as they are completely infested with termites.  They have holes in them.  From a conversation with the 'super' on the topic:

Me: "You mean to tell me that we, the tenants of the building, are responsible for replacing the bathroom doors?"

'Super': "Yes!"

From a subsequent conversation last week:

Me: "Have you spoken to a lawyer about what you're trying to charge us for?"


Me: "You're going to lose me as a tenant over this."


'Super': "Well if that's your attitude, I suggest you start looking for another place."

Me: "I already am."

Did I mention there are three empty stores in the building that they have not bothered to try to rent?  I tried to move into one (more expensive than my current store) a year or so ago and I was informed that "The owner doesn't want to rent it at this time, she'll let you know if she changes her mind."

Whaaaat?  And you're complaining that you don't have money for building maintenance?

Dude, I'm a hothead at times, and this was one of them.  I wanted to move out this year but decided not to because the current political crisis was just beginning to unfold.  I started to change my mind a couple months ago when this bullshit started to manifest, but I still owe a bunch of money from our graffiti event and didn't have anything in reserve for a move.  But last week, when the 'super' showed up with a notice that they'd start charging for the 'maintenance and conservation' of the building I decided it was time to go.  I got all charged up and started taking the first steps: finding a new space and scraping the walls.

Scraping the walls?  Well, for the last three years I've been letting my clients write on them, and I have to return the store in the condition I received it to get my security deposit back.  I decided to make a game out of it:

As you can see it's not just my clients who contribute to the walls.  It's actually been a pretty cool collaboration between me and my clients, and I wish I'd documented it a bit more carefully.  Now my son has decided he's going to do the scraping, as I told him he could earn 50 cents for each tile he cleans off:

He's hoping to earn enough to replace his cell phone that just was stolen, but that's another story.  Special thanks to my second oldest brother (you know who you are) who provided the scraper which is being put to most vigorous use on this project.

I found a space, in a small shopping center not far from here.  It's smaller and more expensive than my current space.  But it's easy to find and it has a window.  And there's a full time employee to do cleaning and maintenance.  And the super is actually a super - she's responsive, pleasant, and actually shows up from time to time at the shopping center.  I expect most of my clients will follow me there, although I will certainly lose a few.

Now I have to wait for the !@#$ local bureaucracy to approve my change of address.  This, apparently, can take up to 45 days, during which I'd basically be a fool to move although I may do so anyways.

Last night I lay awake in bed listening to the rain and wondering if I hadn't made an impulsive, expensive miscalculation.  It's going to be a lot of work to move this damn store, and to a spot that is about half the size and almost twice the price?  I don't know.  But the wheels are in motion.

And here I was thinking I'd spend ten minutes on this post, over an hour later.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

BTC 2015

Well, it's Easter Sunday and I'm at home by myself.  I've gotten a couple decent night's sleep and I've watched all the episodes of Game of Thrones and House of Cards that I hadn't had a chance to watch for some time, so I find myself in the odd position of not having anything better to do than write a blog entry.  And I have been remiss in not writing about our graffiti event, so I will do so.  Actually we had two events, let's see if I can get to both of them.

But first!  I spent the day today riding my bike through the city with a backpack full of spray paint - I left a whole bunch of 'bombs' (quick, simple, graffiti paintings consisting of a fill color and an outline, at their simplest) along my route.  I have no pictures of my adventure, as someone 'borrowed' the memory card of the phone I brought with me to record the event.  Blast!!!  Not that they are very exciting as individual paintings, but they get more impressive in the aggregate.  And why was I biking across town?  To go to the police station to pick up a copy of the police report from my accident that I had revised.  I went there last week and did the actual revision, and I had to go back today because they had no toner for their printer at the time.  I decided that since I had to go, why not take the bike and some cans?  Easter Sunday was the perfect day to ride around the city, as there was very little traffic.  I don't like traffic, especially when I'm on a bicycle.

Questão, Reiv, Filó - Salvador
So - the graffiti event that we spent months planning and almost didn't happen.  There was a fair amount of drama leading up to the event, and fairly little drama during the event, which was good.  We almost didn't get any money to put the thing on, which added greatly to the drama.  At the last minute we were promised some 20 thousand reais, with some conditions.  That was all the money we needed to put the event on, but as things stand right now that's all we got: a promise.  It's money from the city government, so it should eventually come through but then again the government hasn't been doing so great here lately... more on a national level but why let yourself off the Anxiety Hook when you've got such a good reason to be hanging from it?  So essentially a lot of people (myself included) took an IOU and invested out of pocket to make the event happen, but hopefully within a few months or so we will be reimbursed.

As I write this I am finally uploading the photos to my poor, neglected Flickr account - if you think this blog is neglected you should check out my Flickr.  It's pathetic.

I don't know how much this post is going to be a blow-by-blow of how the event came together, I didn't strike when the iron was hot and the brain has moved the experience out of short term memory - perhaps for the best.  Nah, it wasn't that bad.  It was fun!  I was actually a bit removed from a lot of the action as I had to deal with my store and the paint and the aftermath of my car accident but that's okay.  I don't really like being too much in the middle of the action.  I spent most of my time trying to sell paint, but since we were given 900 cans of paint to distribute amongst the participants it turned out that there wasn't much demand for more, much to my chagrin - I had estimated that we might sell two to three thousand cans in addition to the 900 donated, which turned out to be WAY off target- if I sold 500 it was a lot.  But I ordered over 3000 cans, which I now have to pay for, and I have so much paint on hand I don't know what to do with it all.  I tried a big old promotion, but the results were tepid at best.  I'm swimming in paint.  It's freaking me out.

Quinho with Limpo and Nick Alive
I suppose I could give you some background instead of just rambling on, you know, why we did it and all... now might be a good time.  Essentially it's this: there is a tradition of big graffiti events in the major cities here in Brazil and Salvador has not had one in a very long time.  There was one 'International' event in 2008 (you can see the pictures from that here) but we haven't done anything since then.  And by the way, this one was not at all international, unless you count me and my Swiss friend and this Mexican guy who was taking photos.  Actually, my Swiss friend is the only one who counts as he's the only one who painted.  Next year we'll try for international.  This year we are just happy that we pulled it off.

When you put on an event like this, you invite people to participate.  In this case, since it wasn't international (we actually did invite one of the best graffiti artists in the world from Germany, but she said she couldn't make it), we invited people from Salvador and people from the rest of Brazil.  We got about 150 submissions on our website.  We picked 90 of them, which was probably too many.  We also decided to put the event on for four days instead of three, which was probably too long.  Lots of people grumbled about who we chose.  I grumbled about who we chose.  This might be a good time to mention that there were five of us organizing everything up until the last minute - we are calling our collective Vai e Faz, which means Go and Do It. Some of us did more than others.  Some of us did almost nothing.  I did some things, but could have done more.  At a couple points I decided that I would help out this year and then be done with it, leave the collective.  Which I may yet do, although I haven't decided for sure yet.

So once you get the people, and the paint (which came together quickly thank goodness, once we were promised our 900 cans of paint we knew we had an event to look forward to) then you need to arrange food and housing and scaffolding and such.  Costs money.  And nobody was giving us any.

The other thing we needed was a wall to paint.  It's tough finding a really big wall that lots of people will see on a daily basis that the owners will let you cover with graffiti for free, but we had our eye on one from the start.  There's a ferry that runs from the island of Itaparica to Salvador, which has a massive wall and it fronts on a major road into the center of the city.  Perfect.  Better yet, one of our organizing team had already painted part of it.  And the owners of the wall were all for it.  Unfortunately, not everyone who had previously painted the wall thought it was a good idea.

Sank, Salvador
There's a somewhat odd concept in graffiti, at least here in Salvador, where walls become turf.  People who have no idea who actually owns a particular property will talk about "their wall" and if anyone else tries to paint there it becomes a problem.  This became a problem for us with our perfect wall.  Admittedly, we screwed up - two people who had painted large portions (some 60 yards) of the wall were not consulted before we announced that the painting would happen there.  Worse, one of the guys is one of the most problematic in the scene, and the other I found out (to my surprise) is not far behind.  They got pissed that we wanted to paint their wall without asking, and made vague suggestions about reaching some kind of arrangement.  It's pretty clear that what they wanted was money, although they wouldn't admit it, and probably a lot more than we could afford to pay.  We had a much easier time negotiating with the pixadores, the taggers who had also painted the wall.  We gave them some cans of paint, let them participate in the event, and they were happy.  These other guys weren't interested in the same offer, so we left "their" section of the wall alone and painted the rest.

There were other problems with the wall involving official authorization by the real owners, which were complicated and stressful and I don't want to get into it - let's just say that we didn't have it sewn up until the very last minute, and there was a situation involving a big section of the wall that was in dispute right at the last minute, the very morning of the event.  Thank goodness it all worked out in the end.

Viber, Minas Gerais
So I've mentioned the funding - up until about 10 days before the event all we had in the treasury was about 100 reais we earned from a raffle we put on.  This was not only the result of procrastination, although that certainly played a part.  We had a contact in the city government, who suggested that we put on the event in March to coincide with the city's birthday.  We, in our ignorance of how this was intended to work, chose to put on the event in the beginning of March rather than the end, which is when the birthday actually happens.  We did this so as not to conflict with the next graffiti event of the Brazilian calendar, which happens in the neighboring city of Recife.  It was a mistake.

Even though we started planning for the event in November, we were forced to take a long break from our planning; first because of Christmas and New Year's, and next because of the all-consuming Carnaval, which requires more than a month of intense planning before it happens.  This left us with little time to get things sorted.  Additionally, a new political party was voted in this year and they were in the middle of the transition, which added to the chaos.  We had a number of last minute meetings to get some funding which ranged from inconclusive to disastrous, and we found out the hard way that we weren't going to get any money from the city government if the event didn't coincide with the actual date of the city's birthday.  It was too late to change the date - we'd already made our selection and a number of participants had purchased airline tickets.

Much to our astonishment, as we were in the midst of resolving the authorization of the wall and riding in my late automobile, one of my co-organizers received an email stating that we were to receive twenty thousand reais, but only if we put on two events instead of one.  The way they were able to finagle it was to give (promise, rather) half the money for the big event if we scheduled a second, smaller event at the end of the month to coincide with the city's birthday.  We were so surprised I don't think either of us believed it was really happening, and since we still have not received any cash it still maintains an element of unreality which I would be happy to see dissipate say, this afternoon.  I have bills to pay.

So if you've gotten this far you know that we pulled it off, albeit by the skin of our teeth.  So how did it go?  I think it went great for most if not all the participants.  We had an opening event with a round table discussion in which yours truly was on the panel.  It had a theme but I basically ignored it and talked about my experiences with graffiti from the perspective of a foreigner arriving in the scene.  I definitely got the most laughs.  I followed little of what my co-panelists had to say, Portuguese turned to Greek for me in that auditorium.

Mutirão in Itinga
The next day, a Friday, we spent in the neighborhood of Itinga, doing what we call a 'Multirão.' I've written about these events on this blog before.  A Multirão involves getting everyone together and going into one of the humbler neighborhoods in the city and painting people's houses.  These are always fun, although this time instead of painting I spent my time minding a stack of boxes filled with paint and selling little, trying to keep the brutal tropical sun from baking the paint inside their cans.

The weekend days we spent painting the big wall, which of course was the highlight of the weekend and it came out great.  We had some very talented people participating, and the wall was big enough to let all comers paint something.  The section of the invited participants is fantastic, the 'all comers' section of the wall is... less interesting.

Finally we wrapped things up with a show in Pelourinho with a number of rap artists, DJ's, break dancers, you know - the whole hip-hop thing.  I was hauled up on stage with the rest of the Vai e Faz crew and had to speak again but it was okay to bask a bit in the glory of the whole ordeal, I mean, we did pull it off and I was a part of making that happen.  And we learned a lot about how to make it better for next year.

So - I'd hoped to write about the second event we did at the end of the month but this went longer than I expected, so that will have to wait for another time.  Here's hoping I get to it soon, because if not, it will never get written.

The photos have finished uploading to Flickr, have a look if you want to see more.

One last thing: an American guy I met came into the store last week, I was telling him about the event when I remembered that he lives on the island of Itaparica, which means he arrived on the ferry and walked by all the paintings with the paint practically still drying on the walls.  He didn't even notice.

This just in!!  There's a video of the event that just went live, check it out!  It's in Portuguese of course.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Not Again

What follows is a fragmented post, I wrote it on my phone in various locations and I simply don't have time to go over it, but also don't want to leave it for later when it will almost certainly not get published that way.  I hope it is coherent.

I have had so much going on, so many interesting things to write about, such as the big graffiti event I am helping organize, but I'm afraid this post is going to be something of a repeat. Once again, my car has been involved in an accident, but I think this will be the last time - I don't plan to repair it this time.

The only good thing about what happened, aside from the realization of my halfhearted desire to be rid of my car for good, is the fact that I was in no way at fault for what happened. I was sitting at a stop light and my car was hit from behind by another car. That was also hit from behind. By a truck. It's a good thing that other car was there, or I'm pretty sure there would have been a serious injury or possible fatality, there were two people in the back seat.

I'm writing this on my cell phone, because I'm waiting for a report to be written up about the accident. Presumably this is because it was a complicated accident, involving four cars and various injuries  (I got a split lip and a small bump on the head ) but the delay could also be because it is Sunday, or because I am in Bahia, or because of the insane byzantine bureaucracy that makes anything official absurdly difficult and time consuming. One thing is for sure, this

is the first of many long waits that I have to look forward to until this is resolved.

Between the writing of the beginning and the end of that sentence I moved to the second wait on the list. Now I'm halfway across the city, getting an incident report at the police station near where the accident occurred. In the meantime, I went back to the house and discovered that the documentation for my car was out of date. This will

Now it's the next day and I'm somewhere else entirely. Where was I?

doubtless cost me hundreds of reais, but what can I do?

It's been about 24 hours since the accident and I already miss my car. Public transportation here sucks shit.  Long waits and insane drivers - if you  ride the bus here hold on to something AT ALL TIMES or risk winding up on the floor. Taxis are another option, much more expensive and not necessarily any more pleasant. Yesterday I told a taxi driver to slow down twice, the second time adding that I'd already been in one accident that morning. Didn't make any difference, these guys aren't wired for defensive driving.

Maybe I will look into getting the car fixed. By the three strikes rule it should be out, and if I did get it fixed it would truly be Frankencar, but there's no way I can buy a new car at this point. That darn car has served me well, I've had it for ten years, longer than any other car I've owned. But despite the work I've put into it, it's been getting increasingly creaky and my wife practically refuses to ride in the thing, but then again she's been lobbying for a new car for eight years.

Okay, I'm back to the present.  I'm thinking it's extremely unlikely I will get my car fixed.  Now I'm off to take care of other things.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

But I Don't Want to Buy Toilet Paper

I just posted this on The Facebook, but I thought it was interesting enough to make an Instant Blog Post (TM):

I love having an e-book. Especially living in Brazil, where English language books are hard to find and expensive, it's really been great. I loved my first Kindle unconditionally, its only flaw was that it didn't have an internal light. When I turned it off, it showed portraits of different authors, including my hometown's own Emily Dickinson. My new Kindle has an internal light, which is awesome, but it also displays ads instead of authors when turned off. These used to be ads for books, which was sort of okay, but today I got an ad for f**ing toilet paper. Toilet paper, I might add, that I cannot even get here in Brazil. My ebook is still wonderful, but I can't honestly say I love it unconditionally like my old one.

And here was my immediately-after-posting follow-up:

Mark Pfohl This just in: as I registered the above comment, I decided to check to see if I can get rid of the ads, and this is what Amazon tells me:

This Kindle is currently subscribed to Special Offers and was purchased at a subsidized price ($20 discount). 

Amazon is able to offer the Kindle at a subsidized price by delivering Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers.

By unsubscribing you will be charged $20 (plus applicable tax).

Fuckers. But you know what? I'm probably going to pay the 20 bucks to get rid of the stupid ads.

I'm getting ready to click the button and pay the 20 bucks.  I really really really hate advertising.  Would you do the same thing?