Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Many Moments in a Year...

I've noticed that as I get older, and my friends have ever-sprouting children, and work becomes ever more entertaining, that time absolutely whizzes by. So many things happen in the brief span of a year, and this year has been a doozy. Aside from my own personal tragedies (losses of my mother, grandfather, and grandmother) and triumphs (fantastic job and amazing new friends), and national tragedies (Ike, Prop 8) and triumphs (OBAMA!!!)... I wanted to pick out a few of my favorite moments from this year. Things that won't be forgotten.

20. My first ride around the Silverlake reservoirs on my new bicycle.

19. Kitaytay's wedding.

18. Riding the Toy Story 3D ride at California Adventure about a zillion times before it was open to the public! And having a wonderful day with Kevs, 'Nay, Little J, G&T.

17. Yeasayer. Live. Anytime.

16. Sitting on the street in Austin with Baca, shootin' the shit, eatin' hot dogs, at 4am during SXSW.

15. Watching the stellar breakdancers at the Spread Eagle in London with Raquel, Lita, Lola & Alex.

14. Dancing with Felipe in Brazil!

13. The almost thwarted margarita lunch with my most fab-u-lous friend, Ms. J.P. No Metro train hold-ups, dead cell phones or rain of bird shit could keep us apart!

12. My birthday "cake" consisting of caramel apples. 'Nay is a genius!

11. On the balcony of Club 33 watching Fantasmic at Disneyland with Team MoTéCardickson.

10. Roasted cheese on a stick on the lovely beach of Barra, Brazil.

9. Interviewing Kristin Hersh on July 7th at Little Radio... I've been lucky enough to interview her a few times, but on this day, we (me, her & her hubby/manager Billy) had about an hour beforehand to shoot the shit. By the time the interview started, we were all in a silly and happy place, and I've never had more fun interviewing anyone in my life. How lucky that it happened to be an artist whose work I have admired for all of her career!

8. MONOLITH 2008: I can't pick one moment - there were so many. Perfect friends, perfect music, perfect town. My friends made me smile, Cut Copy made me dance, DeVotchKa made me swoon, Denver warmed my heart despite the chill.

7. Walking around Big Bear with Norris, 'Nay, & Kevs singing Bjork's "Hyperballad" with faux Icelandic accents.

6. The Avett Brothers in California last spring: the shows were rip-roaring, heartbreaking, sing-a-long funfests. And the company of Kevs, Baca, G, & the BFFF made it all the more magical.

5. Cruising with Raquel in a rented convertible listening to old school hip hop on an unexpectedly hot winter's day.

4. Team MoTéCardickson's Huntington Gardens photo shoot on a lovely spring day.

3. My beloved Spuds and their kids and family who came to my mom's memorial party, and made it even more fun than we had planned to make it.

2. Mr. W playing guitar for me in Berlin.

1. Barcelona, May 25th: me & my little brother going to see our friend Uni (& Her Ukelele) perform in a fabulous little club, and her dedication of "Tell Me That My World Is Pink Not Blue" to my mom, whose ashes we had scattered that morning with my Dad and little sister. Uni had played it for my mom just before she was diagnosed with cancer, and my mom fell in love with it. As had me & my brother. It was a beautiful, bittersweet moment - that left many in tears, and I know that it was the perfect tribute to my mom - a creative, conflicted and vibrant spirit who loved all things creative, conflicted and vibrant.

2009? Bring it on!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Musical Faves of 2008

Yep. It's that time.

Everyone asks, so I'll answer. I find it impossible to really do a "best of" when that is so subjective, and I can't really narrow it to 2008 because sometimes a record will come out at the end of the previous year that doesn't sink into my brain till later, or I don't have time to absorb something I think I might totally love until the new year (TV on the Radio - I'm lookin' at you). I'll put together the stuff that didn't leave my car stereo this year - and I'll try to keep it to mostly 2008.

One time, a friend of mine said that all music reviews could basically be summarized as thus: "Like the bastard lovechild of (so & so) and (so & so) in (name of place) on (altering substance)." So let's do it.

10. Yelle - Pop Up
"Like the bastard lovechild of Annie and Lily Allen in Paris on lots of bubblegum."
Frenchtronic female with attitude. Definitely yummy.

9. M83 - Saturdays = Youth
"Like the bastard lovechild of Her Space Holiday and Slowdive in the Tunnel of Love on heroin."
Another Frenchie... staring at his lovely shoes, no doubt.

8. Fleet Foxes - s/t
"Like the bastard lovechild of The Hollies and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Heaven on frankincense & myrrh."
This album just sweeps me away to another place...

7. Santogold - s/t
"Like the bastard lovechild of The Slits and Siouxsie Sioux in Brooklyn on pop rocks and Coca-Cola."
She vomits gold. 'Nuff said. (Okay, and "Lights Out" was my favorite song of the year.)

6. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
"Like the bastard lovechild of Smog and TV on the Radio in a log cabin on the top of a lonely mountain on every downer imaginable."
The album to lock yourself in a closet to... forever. (Okay, the self release was 2007, but the "formal" release was 2008. So there.)

5. Duffy - Rockferry
"Like the bastard lovechild of Lulu and Scott Walker in Philly on syrup & honey."
The new spirit of Northern Soul... comes from "Welch Idol?" Go figure.

4.DeVotchKa - A Mad & Faithful Telling
"Like the bastard lovechild of Ennio Morricone and Roy Orbison in any swarthy desert land on gypsy voodoo."
Swoon. Every time.

3.Cut Copy - In Ghost Colors
"Like the bastard lovechild of OMD and Daft Punk in the Big Apple on (duh!) ecstasy."
Bouncy, new wavey, electro Aussie fun!

2.Yeasayer -All Hour Cymbals
"Like the bastard lovechild of Prog, Folk, Indie & World music in a communal yurt on serious, serious LSD."
There is no way I can (nor have I been successful yet) at describing this band - but I know I love 'em and can't wait to hear what the hell they do next.

1.The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism / The Second Gleam
"Like the bastard lovechild of the Violent Femmes and Townes Van Zandt in the Appalachians on straight up moonshine and heartbreak."
Pre-civil war punk rock. Grungegrass. Etc... Okay, so Emotionalism came out mid-2007, but I only got it this year. The Second Gleam, however, came out this summer, and has some beauties on it... These boys know how to destroy a stage as well as your heart. Now that Rick Rubin has snapped them up, I hope they can continue to be rowdy little heartbreakers.

And because you kept reading, here's a video by them... This song made me cry the first time I saw it live.

That'll do it for me, friends... Let's all keep on listening, shall we?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Where Was I?

This year, the blog took a bit of a beating. I think I've reduced the readership to really sweet friends who know I do this from time to time and check in (as opposed to those glory days of yore when we were a stop on the train and even getting nominated for something in Oz). And you know what? That's totally cool by me. Blogs are a bit of a vanity project, right? I thank my pals who do check in. And I give you pictures!

I've been traveling a bunch this year. I've had a sort of insane 2008... to say the least. So I thought it would be nice to show you guys some of the things that have kept me away from you (in a writer-y sort of way, anyhow) over the course of the year.

January 2008: My year started off smashingly.

Yep, one of those cars is mine, and I was stuck with a rental (a convertible, though!) for the next two months. I get to testify in court against the drunk teenager who nailed the 5 cars involved and left his behind as he ran from the scene. That was fun.

February 2008: Moonlight beach, Encinitas.

My mom passed away, and I spent some time at home with the family, saying our goodbyes.

March 2008: SXSW!
So many bands, so little time... I was thrilled by much, because music is the wind beneath my wings. Like, really.

I'm pretty sure this was the first time Duffy played in the States, and she was utterly charming and a blast to watch.

April 2008: me & my friends go a-gardening.

Have you ever been to the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena? You really should go. My friends and I got dressed up and wandered the lovely grounds for hours. And I said some naughty words in front of old ladies and made an Australian blush. Wow!

May 2008: Hola, España!
First, Madrid's architectural majesty, and gay schnauzers in drag:

Then, Barcelona's architectural insanity, and bathing shrimp:

(Note the peas balanced on their heads. Awesome.)

June 2008: One of many, many trips to Disneyland this year. Really. There were quite a few. This trip, we got to preview the Toy Story 3D ride, which we proceeded to ride 100 million times. Or 11. It's all a blur, as you can imagine.

July 2008: Every weekend, a different town...

Really, Phoenix, San Diego, Palm Springs, Big Bear...where I tried to be At One with the Forest Creatures.

August 2008: 4 Non Blondes (not the horrible band - a bunch of actual brunettes) descend upon my Dad and Encinitas. And Del Mar - for the ponies!

September 2008: Air travel all month...

Monolith at Red Rocks - awesome music, awesome venue, awesome friends.

I Heart Denver.

And then, off to London with Raquel!

And a little side jaunt to Berlin, to check in on my Special Friend, Mr. W.

October 2008: Halloween prep! Duh!

November 2008: Just a few trips home for some hang time and some holidays... never a bad thing when your home is like this:

December 2008: Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.

Whew. No wonder I need to get some sleep...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

We Love Xmas!

Happy Holidays, all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tchau, Brasil...

One last trip to the beach. One last bit of shopping. One last piece of delicious roasted cheese on a stick.

Okay, so I got a couple questions about that last one. It's pretty simple, really. On the beach, there are vendors wandering around selling food & trinkets & blankets and stuff. One beach delicacy is a chunk of mozzarella cheese, on a stick, rolled in your choice of herb (my choices were usually oregano or pepper flakes), and roasted over a small tin of hot coals till it gets kinda crispy on the outside. This is indeed a fine art, as if you cook it too much and it'll fall off the stick, too little and it's still hard on the inside. Then some sort of sweet-ish sauce is sprinkled on, and you eat the whole thing in about a second. Dee-lish!

I went into a beach front shop to grab a silly magnet. I don't know, lately I've been grabbing silly magnets for myself on my foreign travels. An old man came in and was chatting up the lady behind the counter. He started taking off his clothes and handing them to her, so I guess they knew each other and he was leaving his stuff there so he could go enjoy the beach. He asked me if I was from Chile or Argentina. I said, "No, California. But my mother was from Colombia." "Oh!" he said, "I knew you had some South American in you. I could see it in your face." (I honestly could not tell you if he was speaking Spanish or Portuguese to me, but I understood him perfectly.) He continued, "There are many beautiful women from Colombia - that is why they keep winning Miss Universe!" I started laughing and said, "No, no, no... Venezuela always wins Miss Universe!" This made him and the shop lady laugh, and she said, "True true!"

So on that note - back to Kitaytay's place to type this final farewell to Brasil. After a little clean-up and the final packing, meeting with Felipe to hand over the keys, and then hopping in the taxi to go... I can say that I leave with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes. And a million and one mosquito bites.

This is a special place - difficult and beautiful, friendly and frightening. There is a vibrancy here, a love of life despite the hardships. I know there are many places like this in the world. Being here just reminds me to remain grateful for what I have, for my wonderful friends, my job, my family. The economy of the US is in the crapper - but just look at so many other nations and see the spirit of the people who live there who actually have much less than we have... Now I sound like I'm preaching, but it's true. We're a bunch of whiny babies. Get over it and be thankful, really, for what you have. We'll get through it.

And I'm thankful, very thankful, that I got to come here and meet these wonderful people and eat the fantastic food and tan on the gorgeous beaches... Saudades, Brasil! Tchau!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's a Small World After All

Today started with a big morning storm... I was in the shower when it started, so I indulged and went and stood in it for a while. Ah, so nice!

After that, I had to go to Dique Do Tororo. The lake with the giant fairies. I couldn't get it out of my mind! I knew it wouldn't look as magical during the day, but it was going to have to do. I jumped into a cab and told the driver where to take me, and then he attempted to chat me up. I sadly told him I didn't speak Portuguese. He started talking again later, and I realized he was trying to ask me something, and he was trying really hard. I kept shaking my head and he muttered, "Ah, no entiende..." Then he got all excited and picked up what I thought was a playing card, but turned out to be a prayer card, and started to repeat something. Did he want me to go to church? Then I heard it, "Orixas?" (The "x" in Portuguese shoulds like a "sh" which was throwing me.) Saints! He was saying Saints! It was a Saint card! Did I want to be dropped off at the Saints? "Si si!" And we both were happy.

I did a walk around the lake, a leisurely one, which took about an hour and included lots of pics of Orixas/Saints/Cinderella-type fairies. Also some geese. There was a gaggle of 'em that these kids chased into the water, and they emerged on the other side of the lake at the same time that I got there, bounding up to the popcorn vendor for a snack. (Wise, wise geese.) I caught a cab back to Barra, and passed a curious little street scene on the way... Guys in dresses. I wouldn't call it drag - there were no wigs, heels, or make-up. It was simply a bunch of guys in dresses, with beers in hand, making kissy faces and calling out to the cars passing by. They had wisely placed orange comes in a lane so that traffic crawled to a slow in the one remaining lane, leaving many to observe their antics. The cab driver & I started laughing and I said, "Como San Fransisco!" Then he really started laughing.

I took some last pictures at the beach, and wandered around some more. I'll have part of Monday, but I don't usually take anything to the beach but a sarong and some water, so I wanted to get early evening pictures. I thought about having my last dinner be a fancy one, at some fancy place I'd read about, and then I saw my flirty waiter friend hanging outside of Portal Do Mar. So of course, I went in.

His name was atually Laurenido. I made him spell it out for me because I knew it was pretty and fancy, but I also knew I wasn't remembering it correctly. I told him it was my last dinner in town, since I was leaving the next day. "No!" he said. "I like practicing my English with you!" I said, "Your English is very good; where did you study it?" "Oh, I am self-taught. I like English. I watch English television and have reading materials." He taught himself. And I've studied years of Spanish, grew up in a semi-Spanish speaking environment, and can hardly hold a conversation in the language. I SUCK. Laurenido was at least kind enough to tell me my Spanish was good. He was really workin' for that tip.

Later, I was approached by a man who turned out to be the owner of the place. I had been writing in my journal at the table, and he asked if I was a food critic. "No," I laughed, "This is just so I don't forget any part of my trip." "Where are you from?" he asked. My usual response was (and has been) California (I rarely say I'm from the States). He got really excited. "I've lived in Bahia and Berkeley since 1979!"

Are you kidding me? Two Berkeley people in one trip? So I had to ask him... did he know Kitaytay? "Of course, I sold her the apartment!" So, basically, I was staying in this guy's old apartment. And he also owns my favorite restaurant, and he also co-owns the property management firm that handles the apartment, meaning he is Felipe and Carlos' boss. "Well," I said, "I guess there is a reason I kept coming back to this place." "Let me show you something," he said slyly. In the back near the bar, above some wine bottles, he had a Cal Bears banner. A small one, but, as he said, "It's always Calfornia Bears in here!"

His name was Joe and he is Brazilian, but went to school at Berkeley and never really left. When I told him I used to DJ at KALX and Kitaytay & I would do shows together, he claimed to remember listening. We wound up sitting there chatting for a while - Laurenido joined us - a couple others... just sitting in the breeze, looking over the ocean, drinks and good food. I really couldn't have had a better last night.

I can't believe that it's already almost time to leave! (Big sigh.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon

After another night of dancing, my motivations today were non-existent. I only have a couple of days left, but I've done quite a bit, and thought it would be okay to just chill. (As if hanging out on the beach isn't chill enough, right?)

I actually slept in this morning - more than I have since I got here. No one was out in the street yelling about something, selling something, announcing something from a speaker in the back of the truck... No, it was raining.

It rains just about every day. The first couple days I was here, it would rain at about noon or 1pm. Bring the humidity down a notch. Then it didn't rain at all, then some gentle morning showers.

Today we got a big downpour. Since I was born and raised in California, thunderstorms are pretty exotic. Sure, we'll get rain in the winter (sometimes), but it's always cold and dreary when it does rain. Here, it's much more tolerable. It's still 80 degrees out, and the rain feels refreshing, sounds great, smells wonderful... Yea, you just don't get this in California. I know lots of places do - I was in a couple summer downpours like this in Melbourne a few years back, and Florida, and well, all over the place. But this - I kept the doors open so I could hear the water running off the patio roof, loud as it was, because it was just so darned cool.

My only real errand of the day was to buy pants. I know - it's hot and humid, why on earth would you need pants? Believe it or not, people wear jeans all day here. And the other night, Carlos said something about wearing long sleeves and such to keep from being bitten by bugs. And my legs look so diseased at this point that I'm horrified by them myself. So - pants. I found a really light & loose pair that were nice (because people here never really look like slobs) and comfy, and, most importantly, don't show even so much as my bite-riddled ankles. Success!

After that, it was lounging and reading on Kitaytay's patio. When evening fell, I went for a walk along the coast - her place is a block down from the Yacht Club, so there are always interesting boats lit up on the horizon to watch.

Not a bad way to spend the day...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hot Hot Hot!

First off, I apologize to my friends in the Northern Hemisphere freezing their asses off. (I probably should have done that with my first Brazil entry though, huh?)

It was another fine, fine beach day... except that it was insanely crowded! The weekend starts on Fridays, you know. The sun was intense, which meant I spent a lot more time floating in the water than lying on the beach. Besides, there was almost no room on the beach - I could have wandered farther along the coast, but I wanted to experience Porto da Barra in full swing. I was sandwiched behind a large group of teenagers, next to a mom and her young toddler and a middle aged couple, and in front of a couple of old German guys. All her having fun except for the German guys. They were being Superior. Any time a vendor would walk by, they'd ask to look at his stuff, then diss it all, ask if he could bring more from somewhere else, and then veto all of that too. They had some kid running errands for them, grabbing chips and drinks. If you rent an umbrella and chair, there is a guy who watches all that stuff and will come by and rinse the sand off your feet too. They never thanked that guy. They were kinda pissing me off.

So into the water - but after a while, it was almost too crowded to go in there! The waterline was three or four people deep as far as you could see, and if you swam through the masses, you didn't have far to go before you were knocking up against a boat. But it was still nicer floating in the water, even occasionally being involved in some youngster's swimming competitions, than listening to those German dudes whine and bitch.

I had gotten a call in the morning from Carlos, saying that he'd love to go out tonight if I was free. Yes! More dancing! He had a work party first, and would swing by later in the evening. I went and had a leisurely meal at my favorite spot, Portal do Mar, and then went home to do some writing before he came by.

We drove out to Pelourinho and on the way, went through some areas I hadn't seen. There was a large, elongated lake along the busy road we were taking, filled with lights in Christmas tree shapes, in varying sizes. It was actually really beautiful. Then we turned a corner and there were statues, about seven of them, that immediately made me think of fairies from Disney films (lke Cinderella or something). They were quite large and sort of metallic looking, but it was dark and they were only somewhat lit. They were in the middle of the lake in a circle and there was a fountain in the middle of them. I asked Carlos who they were, and he said, "Oh, saints." Of course! He also said the lake was bigger, and that it was installed by the Dutch a very long time ago. (When I got home I did some digging and found that it is called Dique Do Tororo.)

O the way into Pelourinho we went through some very dodgy parts, the stuff I'm sure I read about avoiding because "unwelcome" was certainly the vibe here. Carlos kept saying, "This is a very bad area, very bad area," as we drove, which I didn't really want to hear because our windows were down and the roads were narrow and cobblestoned, so we weren't going very fast. Then suddenly, there we were in old town. We parked the car and wandered up an alley and went to the African Bar. The alley was packed with people drinking and dancing, but we went inside for the real DJ, who was a friend of Carlos'. I thought I had been to the African Bar on Tuesday, when I saw Olodum, because that's what it said on the ticket. Evidently not, because this place had a totally different entry and, once I was inside, it was definitely a different bar.

The DJ was playing Joe Cuba when we walked in, which made me very happy! We got a couple drinks - I opted for the caipirinha alternative, caipiroski. The caipirinha is made with cachaca, which is a sugar cane based alcohol I've realized I'm not too fond of. The caipiroski substitutes it with vodka. (And the whole thing is sort of like a daquiri anyway.) They put fruit in there too, and I always get pineapple. When getting a girlie drink, why not go all the way?

The DJ, who was very friendly (duh! Brazil!) and came out to dance on the floor with everyone else quite often, had switched to reggae. Some of the hippie kids got a little nutty during the reggae - as if this was their special moment... Then the music went samba regge to samba (he was a really good DJ!) and Carlos taught me some proper dance moves so I could do a little better in the synchronized portions of the evening. He said, "You are a good natural dancer, you just need a little training." Ha! What a sweet way of putting it.

He realized he had left his cell phone in the car and went to get it so it wouldn't tempt anyone into breaking into the car. While he was gone, I sat at a table watching the dancers, and was asked to dance. I said, in my lousy Spanish, that I was waiting for my friend. So this guy just sat next to me and tried to talk to me. He spoke no English and sometimes understood my Spanish, but wasn't really to bothered by that. He wasn't pushy; it just seemed perhaps he was going to help me pass the time. I did get that his name was Fabio and he was a philosophy teacher. Eventually, he was all, "Come on, let's dance!" So we did, and it was fun. Then Carlos came back so I excused myself.

We sat in the back of the bar for another drink, and I looked out the windows and saw a whole courtyard with a stage... "What is that?" I asked Carlos. "Oh, there are many bars and restaurants that connect to that area." As I peered into the darkness, I realized that was indeed where I saw Olodum the Tuesday before. So I wasn't totally confused!

Several goodbyes later, we said good night, and I said goodbye, to Pelourinho.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tropicalia, Sambas, and Cheese

The mosquitoes are winning. There is some breed that likes the repellent, I think, and believes it only adds to the tastiness of my mixed breed California blood. And once they are done, they leave welts the size of a quarter. My legs look like they've been polka-dotted by a happy 3 year old given free license with a brown Sharpie. Or a red Sharpie. Depends on the bites' stage of development. Regardless, in this land of Sexy People, I ain't feelin' so sexy.

Yesterday I went back to Pelourinho for the third time, to get some real pictures of the whole old town thing and buy some trinkets for friends back home. Again, I snuck in the back way (meaning I avoided Praca Da Se) and everything went fine. I guess that first day was just really bad luck? Today was beautiful.

My main stop though was Cana Brava Records, one of those places you need to stop by if you want to get some Brazilian music. There are plenty of good record stores form what I understand, but this one has a radio station on Live 365 I've tuned in to, and I knew they were used to us foreigners stumbling in. The woman working didn't speak English, and I was a little bummed, but (music geek that I am) I had my list! Although I wasn't really finding stuff... Then a Scottish dude came in and started speaking Spanish with her. He knew the owner, who was due in that evening. Regardless, my lame Spanish saved the day again, and the lady in the shop was able to guide me towards some new artists and such that I'll hopefully love forever and ever. I spent more money in that shop than I've spent the whole trip. Yep, geek.

I decided to walk back to Barra to check out the neighborhoods along the way. It's a coastal walk, and you can never have too many of those! First up, Barroquinha, which you hit as you leave the Pelhourino area. It was jam packed, seriously packed, with cars, vendors, stores, people, motorcycles, etc... It was nuts. You had to walk in the street to get anywhere, and even then, the cars were trying to get somewhere too. The stores were overflowing with people. The sidewalk vendors were selling everything from food to Christmas lights to shoes to watches to clothes (I saw a tiny girl sleeping in a pile of clothes on a pallet) to produce to flowers... It was all there, on the sidewalk.

Then, the scene calmed down as I got to Barris, which was a pretty and mellow area (especially considering the chaos I'd just walked through). There was a nice park for lounging, complete with a giant iguana in the lawn. I thought this was a regular thing, but then some locals starting pointing it out to each other, so I guess our iguana friend was just visiting. This area also has a great public library, evidently, and a nice arts and music scene. I happily stumbled upon a lady selling fresh baked pao do queijo, known in my universe as pan de queso, or cheese bread. Little buns of it. Tastiest thing ever.

Then on to Campo Grande, which was actually a big park. It had a huge, elaborate statue/fountain which I believe commemorated the early successful unions of Portuguese rulers with native royalty, and some ocean stuff. I think. There was also a really nice pond, and lotsa benches and lawn areas. I think it's just one of few big park areas like that in the neighborhood.

Next stop: Vitoria. This is a much more affluent area, from what I can tell, filled with glamorous looking high rise condominiums and apartment buildings all vying for a view of the ocean. Some beautiful old colonial style homes line the street too, and some have been converted to other uses like museums and theatres. The art fag in me was happy to see an art house which had just finished up a Fassbinder film festival. I stopped in to the Museu de Arte da Bahia, which was lovely because of the stuff in it as well as for the air conditioning. It had a really beautiful marble staircase smack in the middle of the building, illuminated by the light streaming though the window in the roof, and a porch running around the entire 2nd floor.

And then I was back in Barra to plan my evening out. I'd been told about a place in Barris called Beco de Rosalia, a cafe with live music nightly. I heard it was a musicians' hangout, meaning you never knew who was going to show up and play! Not like I'd recognize any famous Brazilian artists (except, as I've mentioned, Caetano Veloso) but it was nice to know there was a place like that were anything could happen... So off I went.

I wrote the name and address of the place down because I knew it would be too much for me to get that info to a cab driver, and sure enough, it saved my ass. My driver was a funny old guy, who talked a mile a minute even though I couldn't do much more than giggle, which probably just made him laugh more. But I got the idea of what he was saying more often than not: let's not take Ave. Sete de Setembro because traffic sucks, where the hell is this street you want to go to, are we going to be near the library, and you aren't Brazilian are you? When I said "California," he laughed and said, "Estados Unidos! Obama!" (This has happened almost every time I say I'm from the States - these Brazilians LOVE Obama!) He raised a fist into the air and I laughed. I tapped his shoulder for some reason, and he took my hand and gave it a kiss. But not in a nasty Fingerlicker way, a very carefree fun way, and that made me laugh more. Then he said I had little hands, so we had to compare, because he had little hands too. We finally got to our street (which he was very happy about finding) and he gave my hand a kiss goodbye.

Beco de Rosalia was a cute place with food and booze - not an elaborate menu, but I think it was more about the music. I'd been hoping for some lively samba, but got some mellow tropicalia instead. They were rally good, actually, and I was sitting in a courtyard, writing postcards and eating bolinhos artesanal de queijo - breaded and fried cheeseballs, basically. Yum yum yum. With a beer. What a lovely way to spend the evening.

My cab ride back was not so eventful till the very end... There are a lot of one way streets in this town, and I rarely notice signs saying so. (I've also noticed that red light means go if no one is around or it's a one way street or... well, it just seems to mean go, just like green light.) I've been able to get cab drivers to Kitaytay's place pretty easily as she lives on top of Bar Do Chico, which is well known. This cab driver was dropping me off at the top of Rua Presidente Kennedy (see? They like our cool presidents, evidently!) which is my streets. He asked if that was good or did I need to go farther, but I was fine. Didn't matter, he put the car in reverse and drove down the hill backwards to my door. I laughed the whole way down.

Then home to the den of mosquitoes to spray myself down and get some sleep! Going home is gonna be tough... but mosquito free!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ch-Ch-Check It Out

Today was a beach day, which means I don't have much to report. Some floating in the ocean, some reading, some roasted cheese-on-a-stick (I don't really have to go into details on that one, do I?).

So just some observations:

Geckos: There are geckos here, or at least some small lizard thing similar enough to geckos. I've seen them in the apartment a couple times. I am a big fan of geckos - I have one tattooed on my right hip even. I think they're awfully cute. In other countries I've visited where geckos run rampant, I usually see them: a) scurrying across the floor so you have to wear shoes so you don't step on one in the dark b) decorating the walls like a spider, sometimes moving, sometimes pretending like you can't see them. Here, they look at you funny. I've seen at least two varieties - one just plain and brown colored, the other a bit more fancy, with a colored tail. Both behaved the same way. I spotted them, but they had already spotted me. They stared. I stared back. Then they started to scurry - but slowly - all the while keeping eye contact with me. They moved sideways - or rather, forward, the top of them still turned in my direction. (Actually, it reminds me of a scene in Trainspotting when Renton (Ewan McGregor) is going through detox, and Tommy shows up to tell him he's got AIDS, and in Renton's stupor, it seems as if Tommy slithers along the wall on his way out.) It was like a cartoon. But a very cute cartoon!

Meat: I'm a fan. But in my excursions out for steak, not once have a received a steak knife. It's butter knives all the way. Perhaps I look dangerous? I mean, you never know when the kooky American is gonna take a swing at you. This hasn't really been a problem except for last night, when I had my carne do sol, which is a salted beef. That means it's about a step removed from jerky. You get a large portion too, so try cutting that with a butter knife. On a plastic table. Well, I'm just surprised it didn't fly off the plate and nail a server in the head accidentally. I thought about picking it up and going all caveman on it, but I didn't want to cast Americans in a bad light. Ahem.

Brazilian bikinis: A week before I left on this trip, I was in San Diego visiting my Dad. He helps at this nursery on Saturdays, so I stopped by to say hello. The owner, Mr. Cordova, said, "So you're going to Brazil! Well, you won't need a bikini there!" Ha ha, that wasn't creepy. Nor was it true. I have not seen a single topless woman on any beach I've encountered on this entire trip. Granted, I still have a few days to go, but I was under the impression that Brazil was the land of naked beaches - so where are they? Not here in Salvador, evidently. And for all the sexy people, I'm quite surprised. Hell, most of Sydney was topless when I was there back in 2007... Now the bikini is standard for every female of every age and body type. I think I've seen a single one piece bathing suit, most likely on a tourist. I saw lots of them on mannequins in the mall, but nobody's buyin'. And those bikini bottoms? Yep, mostly Brazilian cut (wonder what they call them here?), meaning a string up the butt with a patch if triangle fabric just over the crack. But, honestly, most of the women I see wearing them can (excuse the pun) back that ass up.

The tan lines aren't a problem either. I saw a great ad where a woman liberally applies her sunscreen, and later checks her tan line from her bikini strap near her neck, looks into the camera, and smiles seductively. Then you see her at a party wearing a strapless dress, tan lines fully exposed, and she gets checked out by a hot guy which causes her to do her saucy face again. I believe the message is: No Skin Cancer Risk = Sexy!

There is something to be said for beauty of all types here, something easily forgotten in L.A., even though I am fortunate to hang around with a group of wonderfully normal people who are not involved in any of the Hollywood ickiness. But it permeates... L.A. could take a lesson. A lot of it is in the way people carry themselves; it's really refreshing - so laid back and relaxed about it all. People are healthy and live fully.

The entire U.S. could take a lesson - learn to relax people! It's just life.

Do I need another drink? Perhaps I just got too much sun. Heh heh heh.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Night Fever

The mosquitoes have crossed the line.

Sidenote (this will be relevant in a minute): you know I like, LOVE Ewan McGregor, right? And a couple years ago, he did a reality show called "Long Way 'Round," where he & his BFF rode fancy touring motorcycles around the world and proceed to nearly get killed a few times. One of my favorite parts is when Ewan is sitting in his tent, lamenting the bug problem. He points to his head, saying, "I've been bitten here, but you can only see it if I turn... like... this." He shows the camera his profile and there is a thumb sized lump coming out of his forehead.

Cut to Mo in Salvador, Brazil on a Tuesday night.

I felt a little itch on my forehead, went in for a scratch and... whattya know! Mosquito bite in the middle of my forehead. Great. I scar like nobody's business too - all of these bites will be with me for the next couple of months, easy.

I'm getting my bangs back as soon as I return.

But back to the main story...

I got up today and decided to go shopping. Kitaytay had a request for some special perfume, so I figured I'd make a day of it and check out the local shops and maybe even hit up the mall. What's a mall in Brazil like, you ask? Well, a mall. The only shop that I recognized was Zara's, which meant I was a kid in a candy store for a couple of hours. I really wanted to buy some dresses (I'm developing quite a collection) and I thought maybe some long ones to cover my spotty legs would make me feel better about being in public.

I hit the jackpot at a place called The Planet. I saw an incredible dress in the window and was lured in... An employee asked me if I needed any help, and I answered her in my bad Spanish when I really meant to answer her in my even worse morsel of studied Portuguese. So bless her gorgeous Brazilian heart when she said, "English?"

Her name was Marcella and it turned out that she had not only lived in the States for 6 months, she had lived in BERKELEY and been an exchange student. I said, "No way! Did you live in I-House!" "Yes yes!" She was so obviously excited to be talking to someone who knew her old stomping grounds. When I told her I'd lived there nearly 15 years she clapped her hands. She asked me about a couple things while we tried on a pile of dresses. As we wrapped things up and I was about to leave, she said, "Come by here again - if you need someone to take you out I will show you around!" Then she gave me a big hug and we said goodbye. I suspect I'll be back tomorrow.

Have I mentioned that people are really friendly here?

A few credit card charges later and I was heading back towards the shore to check in with my vacation friends, Felipe and Carlos. Since they were working, I had to be sly about my visit, but this whole "friendly" thing meant they came outside to chat with me a minute. Turns out they couldn't go out tonight because they had exams in the morning (So cute! They're still in school!) but promised another evening. In the meantime, Felipe hooked me up with another friend of his who was taking some ex-pats out drinking on Thursday. So we'll see...

Then off to Pelourinho again. I know, I know, I didn't exactly enjoy myself the first time, but I was going to give it another go. It was Tuesday night, which is party night in Pelourinho, evidently. Music all over the place, dancing in the street, tons of people - that sort of thing.

And that is exactly what it was! The vibe was completely different than when I'd been there a few days ago. It just felt like a party. I walked around and poked into a couple of the churches that were open - this part of town is actually a World Heritage Site because of the beautiful old churches. They were having mass, which made me hesitate until I saw they had areas in the back for tourists. The insides of these places were pretty elaborate - gold gilded walls, high arched ceilings, statues everywhere... Very busy and gorgeous. I was very excited to stumble upon A Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Pretos (The Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks) having a mass. Amazing singing and clapping, even drumming, was streaming out of its open doors, and inside the priest and his posse were just walking up to the altar. Large statues lined the walls of black saints - how often do you see that? And then the priest cracked a joke, evidently, because the entire congregation burst out into laughter... talk about a real church rarity!

Evidently, the number of slaves brought to Brazil was much, much higher than the number brought to the US, and they all came through Salvador. They built over 300 churches in Salvador, but weren't allowed into any of them. The slaves built this particular church over the course of 100 years, and at night, so it wouldn't interfere with their "day jobs." Although they were all "converted" to Catholicism, a lot of the original African feel remains today, some songs still being performed in African dialects, evidently.

I stopped to grab some dinner at a place where a sweet voiced man was playing guitar out front. I just wanted to have my carne do sol while relaxing with some lovely tunes. This is basically a salt-preserved piece of beef, and it was served with black eyed peas, grilled onions and a different kind of pirao - or so the menu said. It was sooooo delicious... It tasted like smooth yuca (a lighter potato type thing) as a porridge, almost, with the slightest bit of melted cheese. I could have eaten pounds of the stuff.

Just down the road about a block, I saw a lit sign straddling the alley which read, "Olodum." Right here? Really? I knew these guys played the Tuesday parties sometimes - was I lucky enough to get them tonight? I was!

Olodum is a group from Salvador credited with creating samba reggae - a heavily percussive samba with influences from the Carribean and (of course) Africa. They are sort of a collective and started up in 1979 to offer cultural activities to kids - the worldwide fame from the music was just a bonus. (They tour the world and you've probably heard them without realizing it; they are Paul Simon's backing bad on his Rhythm of the Saints album, for example.)

Here's a clip of them performing a small scale event:

Well, this show wasn't free like all the other music, but I had no problem paying to see them at a place called (I think) The African Bar. Let's just say that once they hit the stage, the next two hours were a drunken, sweaty mess in the best way possible. Beers were spilled, dancing happened on a massive scale, and there was much singing and synchronized drum action. rarely do I get to see shows where the audience goes wild... especially now that I live in Los Angeles, where most fans watch the band with just a bit of disdain. This was a party from the first drumbeat. There were a couple dancing ringmasters who were up in front leading the crowd in various moves - they weren't so tough and I was able to catch on pretty quickly. By the third song, we were all dripping sweat. Thank God there was a strong ocean breeze this balmy Tuesday evening to cool us down... but then the next song would start! It was fan-fucking-tastic.

If you want to get even a tiny, tiny taste - watch this little video of people just getting down in their shop to an Olodum track:

Then times it by a couple hundred.

By the end of the night, I was worn out. On my way to get a taxi, I passed again through the dreaded Praca Da se, thankfully absent one fingerlicker for the night. It was full of cops and people, and little kids playing on the sidewalks. As I was close to the end of the square, something grabbed my dress and I whirled around just in time to see an kid, maybe 8 or 9, as he was lifting the back end of my dress as high as he could. I yelled and slapped his arm. He made an "Aye!" yelp and then made kissy noises at me. Well, I guess I have my gym time to thank for the compliment, but man, they sure start young here!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bife, Feijoada e Aipim

Today was a mellow, hang at the beach day. Kitatay's place is literally a 5 minute walk from Praia do Porto da Barra, the main beach in this area. All I wanted to do was go to the beach. earlier, I'd steered away from this main one, because it is CRAZY packed. But it's a Monday, I thought. Can't be that bad!

Well, it wasn't as nuts as it had been on the weekend, but it was still a decent crowd. I laid out not too far from Forte Santa Maria, where some guys were fishing on the deeper side of the wall they were sitting on. "It's like a swimming pool," Felipe had said to me earlier, and that's exactly what it was like. A crystal, pale green, lukewarm swimming pool, with little schools of fish cruising at the wading depth, and boats not too far out on a lovely bay. There were lots of kids there, but it was so great in the water that they didn't bother me (cuz usually they do). Even when I was floating peacefully and a couple kids suddenly got pushed in my direction by their dad on a very cool inflatable rocket, we all just yelled "Ahhhhhh!" and laughed. It's just THAT GREAT. I could have stayed there all day, if I didn't get hungry eventually.

I had dinner back at Portal Do Mar, as I was starving from a lazy day in the water (too much sunshine and sea can do that to you) and the portions at this place usually last me well into the next day. More steak and beans and yuca came my way (although my flirty waiter wasn't there, nor were my drinking buddies, sadly). My new waiter taught me the proper pronunciation of my meal: bife (steak), feijoada (bean stew - technically), and aipim (yuca). I thought, this I can remember. So simple, but so yummy. The beans - sorry, feijoada - are the most amazing thing. I had them my first night as well. The remind me of my mom's beans - I got the recipe from her years ago but have yet to try it out. These beans are so delicious that they almost make me cry - and I think about how now that my mom has passed, I won't get them from her again. I'd better try that recipe when I get home!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem!

I've done some investigating into these mosquito bites. The problem is, I rarely get bitten, so when I'm in a place with mosquitoes and they discover the sweet, sweet nectar of my California type O+ blood, I get devoured the first day and then they start to tire of me. It seems. But what really happens is that you develop immunities to the allergic reaction a bite gives you, and if you haven't been bitten for a while, then you just need to re-develop them and then you won't look as nasty when they get you next time. Which is encouraging, because despite the addition of bug repellent, I'm still getting new bites. Not as many, but there are some fresh ones.

And if you think I'm just complaining - well, you're right. But I have 44 bites on one leg now, and 37 on the other. And this doesn't count my back, arms or hands. I have bites on fingers and toes, fer chrissakes.

Yesterday I took my polka dot self out on a walk. A nice, long walk along the Atlantic coast. I was wearing absolutely the wrong shoes, so my feet regretted it at the end of the day, but I didn't!

I wandered to the coast via some Barra side streets and saw some cute boutiques for shopping later, and restaurants Kitaytay had recommended. The street I was on dumped me out at Jesus, still waving those boats ashore. The next neighborhood you hit is Ondina, of which I knew nothing except that it is the end of the line when the Carnaval parades are happening. There were lots of expensive looking hotels in this part of town that were bogarting prime beach space for their guests. I also noticed laundry hanging on lines in some of the guest rooms, which contrasted nicely with the sense of money in this town.

There was also a fantastic swimming pool area on the cliff overlooking the ocean with three pools in all. The first was the adult pool, closest to the bar. The second was maybe for teens who didn't want the embarrassment of being near their families? I couldn't tell, so that's my guess. The third was absolutely the best - it was the shallow kids pool, filled with giant fountains of cartoonish pelicans, whales, flowers, etc, that the kids were jumping in and out of. One day, when I have millions and millions of dollars, I'm going to construct something like that in my backyard for me to play in. All I'm sayin'.

Continuing on, I passed a lot of small local beaches. One was filled with teenage boys, who all started yelling and calling at me when I went by. It was cute. They were maybe 14, and I'm like, 100. Talk about the MILF thing! If they'd seen my measley legs, I'm sure they would have cut it out. (Although the last time I'd had bites this bad - worse even - was in Hawaii many years ago. A guy hit on me by looking at my legs and saying, "So you like the outdoors - so do I. Alriiiiiight...") I passed a small beach later on and there was a samba reggae band playing (samba reggae is the really pounding percussion style) and a crowd of people dancing around it. I stood to watch for a while and a woman next to me pointed at my legs and said something to her friend. Since I caught her doing it, she gave me a sympathetic look which made me laugh, at least.

The goal of this walk was Rio Vermelho, which is where the annual Festa da Yemenja (goddess of the sea) happens. I got a picture of a statue that I assume is her - a hearty mermaid with a big ass and big boobs. Go Brasil! This part of town is also home to Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa (who bought her place from Caetano Veloso). Not like I'd recognize any of these people if they were sitting next to me having an espresso. (Well, I'd recognize Caetano because he's a sexy bastard. Ahem.) I know their music, not so much their faces.

The first thing I noticed about the beach here were the fishermen. There is a small river that ends at this beach, and around this area were a lot of boats on the shore and not so many in the water. And there were plenty of scrawny dogs, and some chickens. Chickens on the beach! I love that.

Most places were closed, it being God's day and all. The Mercado Rio Vermelho consisted of a lot of places to eat, which were closed. But I went to an open one and had some açai. You know, that wonderful diet berry that is constantly being advertised in the sidebar of Facebook pages as Rachel Ray's diet berry of choice? Or some shit like that. Well, here, açai is a blend of the berry (which comes from a type of Amazonian palm tree) with ice and guarana. It's kind of like a sherbet. It's pretty yummy, and was hella refreshing.

The main vibe I got from Rio VeVermelho was that it was funky and bohemian, and you know I like funky and bohemian! Seemed like a good mix of people, money, etc... Well, kinda like Berkeley. A little of everything balances out. There were some modern buildings, some colonial ones, interesting architecture and parks, the river, the beaches, the chickens... My favorite spot in Salvador so far.

And then the walk home. There were a lot of people walking home, since I think just about everybody was at the beach (nothing else is open!). Everyone walking around in their bathing suits, flip flops if any shoes at all... I can't remember the last time I saw so many bare feet slapping the pavement. And were any of these men wearing shirts? Nope. Unless they happened to be one of the few people stuck working at a gas station or restaurant, they were shirtless. And the places that were open had music - usually live tropicalia being performed - that was right at street level. How relaxing, right? I grew up in a beach town, and you do get used to seeing people wearing their swimwear as everyday wear, but it had been a while and was kinda nice. Especially since it's true that the "hot" to "not hot" ratio in Brazil seems to be very high in the "hot" favor.

My long walk ended just about sunset back at Porto da Barra. The next thing on the agenda? Putting my sore feet up and getting spray happy with the bug repellent. Ah, Sundays!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lambada? Seriously? Hell yes!

Barra nightlife - yes!

I didn't think I'd get to go out much, as I'm on my own and from all I've been told and all I've heard, I shouldn't go out at night on my own. But dinner time is okay, and last night I went down to the beach looking for a place that had been recommended, not finding it, and winding up in the same place I was at the first night - Portal Do Mar. Right outside by the entrance was Felipe, my travel crush/apartment manager. He was with another guy from the office whose name is Carlos, I think; a tall, lean black man with a brilliant smile and very nice English. I spoke with them for a moment before being spotted by my flirty waiter, and went inside to have some food.

The Brazilian food I was familiar with was mainly steak, grilled steak. Bread, yuca, beans & rice... that sort of thing. But Bahia's influences are much more African than elsewhere in the country, so there are dishes here that are specific to the state. I had a red snapper moqueca, which is basically a fish stew made with coconut milk and palm oil (which is a staple here), as well as lime juice, tomato and onion. It didn't taste as exotic as I thought it would - which is certainly not a complaint! I think the guides I'd read don't take it into consideration if you grew up eating South American food which uses similar ingredients and styles. It was yummy. But I was really wowed by the pirao (which is a Brazilian thing instead of just a Bahia thing), which was sort of like polenta: yuca flour and seafood broth, thickened. Mmmmmm... Oh, and I had my first caipirinha, which you can get in the States too, but it tastes better in Brazil - especially if you're gazing at the ocean in Barra while drinking it.

There were a lot of people hanging out, having beers on the sidewalk. A troplicalia band was playing on the sidewalk down the block. It was Friday night! Felipe & Carlos had been joined by a very hot friend; I just kept thinking about how I assumed there were lots of sexy people in Brazil, and was seeing evidence of it every second I was there. Then I thought, "Wait, maybe they are all gay!" I was in a restaurant with 3 rainbow stickers on the windows (this was why I went in the first time - gay friendly is my scene, after all). I'd seen Felipe there the other night too... Wouldn't it be just like me to crush on a gay? Actually, no, I'm better at that. The next thing you know, Felipe and Carlos are inside (sadly, the hot friend had left) sitting at my table, buying me drinks. We chatted for about an hour, and both of them offered to show me around a little while I was in town. Oh, everyone is so friendly here!

Carlos had to go, so Felipe and I walked back to my place, since he happens to live in the building next door. He also had another client on the block who had locked himself out, and decided we should grab that guy and all go out to a bar and go dancing. Yes! I loved that plan! So after dropping off my leftovers and a quick shower, we reconvened and met the Belgian. (I never got his name, actually.) He was with a (sexy) Brazilian woman, and the four of us went to Bohemia Music Bar. The Belgian was very sweet, but obviously a little disappointed that the place was packed with guys when we got there. More women started showing up as it got later, but the DJ was still on (playing Madonna and stuff) and we were all waiting for the band.

Once the band went on, things got really fun. Every song they did, the whole crowd knew. I kinda love that. It isn't the same when a cover band in the States plays, because these songs (in a Latin country anyway) are practically standards, if not actually standards, and they sure seem a lot more fun than most US standards! I mean, can you sexy dance to a US standard? I think not.

We were all dancing at that point. I had on a long dress to cover (and hopefully deter) my mosquito bites, but all the beer was helping me to forget about them. "You dance like a Caribbean!" said Felipe. "I'm only half gringo, you know," I replied. The Belgian was laughing at his inability to dance, so I grabbed his hips and said, "Just shake these." I gave him a little push and got him going. He did okay!

Then the band burst out into the Lambada. You know, "The Forbidden Dance." My cheese-o-meter went through the roof, but everyone in the room was still stoaked. "Lambada!" Felipe yelled, and grabbed me for forbidden dancing. But I didn't know it (I can move, but I don't know "the" moves) so he led me through, and, well, I don't know what's so forbidden about it - except that in the States we never want to hear it again. It's a whole thing in Brazil, though, because that's where it originated and that's where it will live. I learned a couple other dances that will probably never return to my brain again, because that night ended with all of us happily drunk and crashing out around 3am.

I woke up this morning at 7am because someone drove by the place with a speaker blaring something out of the bed of a truck. It was like a stereo just was turned on with the volume at 11 directly in my head. Now I don't really get hangovers, but I'd only slept a couple hours and was not feeling my best. Going back to sleep wasn't an option either, as someone's phone in the complex started ringing like crazy. This apartment has a kitchen with an adjoining washroom that has a half wall, for air circulation I guess, overlooking a small courtyard. Which is part of the reason there is only so much I can do about the mosquitoes - you can basically never close the windows here. Because of that, you can also hear conversations if held near this open space, echoing into the courtyard. Music, TVs, telephones... lots of reverb. I was up.

So I ate my leftovers and went to the beach. There was evidently some sort of competition being held - swimming and volleyball. And all old guys. The volleyball players were supposedly 60+; I'm not sure about the swimmers. There were also lots of boats out and about, TONS of people everywhere, and vendors, vendors, vendors. I didn't get any pictures as I'd left my camera behind - I'd been told many times to go to the beach with nothing but your towel if you can; stuff gets stolen off the beach all the time, especially when it's crowded. So I spent the day lying in the sun, ready, and occasionally hopping in the water to cool my inflamed bug bites.

The beach was so great, I'm going to have to force myself to check out other parts of Salvador, but I have faith. And bug repellent. And sun block.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Finger Lickin' Nasty

I've given in. It just got to be too much for me and I couldn't take it anymore.

I bought bug repellent.

Really, the mosquitoes just wouldn't let up. As I've wandered around Salvador, I find that I keep looking at everyone's legs, to see if they are as damaged as I am. I have ridiculously sensitive skin, so your mosquito bite isn't as nasty as mine. So the 20 or so bites on each (each!) leg and foot are now welts and damn sexy.

I figured out that my useless vegan deodorant also contains the same stuff used for anti-itch pastes... I hit the supermarket and bought some Bahia proof deodorant and bug spray, and used my old stuff to relieve the itching. And just in time, because the damn things bit me on the ass the night before.

This didn't stop some strange man from making out with my hand, but I'll get to that.

Pelourinho is the other super touristy (and therefore somewhat dangerous) part of Salvador, built in the colonial period around 1549 or so. There are rows of beautiful, pastel colored, European-ish buildings all crammed together... but you see quite a few of them with peeling walls, broken windows and missing roofs as well. There is as much rust and destruction as there is polish and gleam, really. And I think people still live in there, complete walls or not.

I went first to the Mercado Modelo, where every tourist has to go, but locals also find it fun from what I've heard. It was full of stuff - lots of little booths selling musical instruments, food, paintings, jewelry, fabric, clothes... you get it. But even within the place, you got a lot of repetition. Like every 5th place was selling the same painting. That was a bit disappointing, but the space was cool and the people watching was pretty great.

It got infinitely better outside. It just felt looser, more relaxed - even though people were still all over your shit to sell you something. I saw some really creepy yet hilarious things for sale - weird skulls with fake eyes and straws in their mouths, or made to look like fish with monster heads, or... well, I can't really describe some of them. Of course, I wanted to grab one for my brother who likes all things freaky. Checking stuff out, I learned that they had something to do with candomblé, which is a sort of voodoo-Catholic hybrid which originated in Africa but really got going in Salvador. Kitaytay has seen some interesting stuff via candomblé, and says you just don't mess with it, so I opted not to buy my brother something that may add a little more than just a kooky decorative feature to his SF pad.

And next to the Mercado was The Butt. I don't remember the real name, but it's a sculpture that looks like 2 Picasso-esque asses stacked on top of each other. And locals call it The Butt. Really.

There was also a pretty massive street market happening: bananas (many varieties, yum!) and other fruits, veggies, chickens... This was all located in the lower part of the city, Cidade Baixa, so named because Salvador is a mass of hills and valleys, and there is a very large and distinctive drop right in this part of town. Everything I had read said never to walk to Cidade Alta as those streets are beyond sketchy, but to do what everyone else does and take the elevator. Elevador Lacerda is a deco-style, granite elevator that is blessedly air conditioned, making that short, 2 cent trip up pretty heavenly.

Once in Cidade Alta, there are two areas to check out: Praca Da Se and Terrerio de Jesus. Both are large city squares filled with food carts, hair braiding stands, music, vendors, and panhandlers. I tried to be as sly as possible when taking pictures, because as soon as you were spotted holding a camera, everyone pounces. I had one guy who was following me around for a bit. I mean, a girl - in a dress - with a camera - alone? You could say I felt vulnerable, despite my solo traveling experience. Eventually he offered me a fita, which is a ribbon someone has to give you (you can't buy them!) and tie onto your wrist. You make a wish for each knot, and wear it till it falls off. Fortunately, I've had one on for a couple of months now (tied on by Kitaytay at her wedding) and have generally been able to fend people off with it. But this guy wasn't really interested in selling me stuff, he just wanted to talk to me. So I busted out some Spanish instead of my practiced Portuguese phrases and he said, "Ah! Española?" Damn. Caught. I blend in pretty easily most places I go (even in Thailand where I was taken for Italian, Israeli, or Indian) but if I was going to say more than a few words, I would obviously be an American speaking horrible Spanish. Sigh...

The Española thing had already happened many times, and I didn't mind. I kept accidentally speaking Spanish when I meant to say something in Portuguese (picked up from a handy phrasebook that very day, most likely), but the phrase would vanish and Spanish would take its place. I didn't mind people assuming I was Spanish of some sort, because in those situations, we were just having a conversation. This guy WANTED something, and he was creepy. I told him I was leaving, and he grabbed my hand and melodramatically said, "No!" He then proceeded to kiss my hand, but somehow his tongue got inbetween my fingers. I was now thoroughly grossed out and tore my hand out of his mouth and headed for the nearest fountain so I could rinse. Bleach wouldn't have made me feel better at that point.

Terreiro de Jesus is so named because of the four churches that sit on each end. Old, sometimes crumbly but beautiful churches, most with dogs or people sleeping in front of them, and a center filled with guys doing capoeira. I went down some side streets, keeping an eye on the names of these places because I had been warned about several, and then just decided I wanted to go home. It was too stressful staying on top of things, and I was just getting followed around a bit too much.

Just off the Praca De Sé was a plaza with a panoramic view of Baia Todos Os Santos, which is the bay that lines much of Salvador's coast. I hung out there for a bit, just chilling out. It was really beautiful. As I turned to walk away, a really crusty little kid ran up to me and started aggressively asking for money, going on angrily about something. I just kept walking but the kid wasn't going anywhere, and then who should return? The Fingerlicker, of course. But this time, I was glad to see him as he chased the boy away, told me the kid just wanted money for drugs and it was good that I didn't give him anything, and that he hoped I had a good visit. Then he grabbed my hand again and I pretty much yelled, "No!" He jumped a bit and I made my getaway.

If only my hand had been covered in bug repellent that afternoon...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bugs, Boys & Brazil

Here is the first official report from Brazil.

Oh, did I forget to mention that's where I'm going? Not if you've spent any time in my personal space in the last couple of months!

After a couple long and bouncy flights, I arrived in sultry, sweaty Salvador, Brazil. My wonderful friend Kitaytay has a place here that I get to crash in - a few blocks from the ocean and next to one of the most hopping bars in town, evidently.

I took a taxi driven by Forest Whitaker's twin brother, who had a great laugh and a general disrespect for traffic rules. As did most of the other drivers, but not to as horrifying an extent that I remember Colombia being many, many years ago. This driver really wanted to talk to me, and I would have loved to have talked to him, but after having been awake for a day and a half and knowing close to no Portuguese, we found it just wasn't working. I somehow asked him to put on some music he liked - which he did. And he sang along.

After a moment of decompression at the apartment, I went for a little wander. I like to get the feel of the neighborhood, check out what's nearby... buy a jug of amoeba-free water. You know. Kitaytay's place is located in Barra, a nice suburb of Salvador that's nothing but coast. I'm under the impression that's just how the city of Salvador works - plenty of beach action, just the way I like it.

I went down the main drag, Ave. 7 de Setembro, along Porto da Barra, the main beach. The sun was just going down, and there were people everywhere. Voluptuous babes in bikinis on bicycles, shirtless men sitting on the boardwalk walls drinking beer, vendors selling jewelry and t-shirts, and lots of joggers. On my brief walk down I found myself oh-so-sexily dripping in sweat, and can only imagine how much water weight alone they must have lost on that one run. I walked behind a man who was sort of skipping and singing for a bit. I didn't pass him, because in my experience, that is usually a sign of some form of insanity. On my way back, I must have passed 3 people who were singing and or dancing, so I figure this town likes its tuneage. I'd heard that Bahia is a musical place, and so we'll see how that turns out.

I stopped into an empty restaurant with a lovely menu - lots of steak. And yuca. How I do love yuca! I grew up on the stuff. I'm also an unrepentant meat-eater, and vowed that "Steak will be had!" on this trip. Since I was completely exhausted but needed to stay up just a little bit longer, I opted to start my stay here with a nice meal. The waiter hit on me immediately - or perhaps he was just really, really friendly. His name was Lihourino (and God knows I couldn't have spelled that right) and he obviously knew that flirting is an excellent appetizer to steak.

While I was eating, Felipe, the manager of Kitaytay's place, happened by and popped in to say hello. I decided to have a little crush on this guy because he's sort of dorky cute and has a stutter. Mmmmmm... stutters! He knew the waiter and we all talked for a bit, then he told the waiter to treat me right and make sure my steak was perfect, and was off into the night.

After dinner, I absolutely had to crash, but the bar next door was over the top loud and partying. Normally, this isn't a problem for me - and it wasn't tonight either, as I immediately fell asleep on the couch. This was a bad decision, because when I woke up I found that my calves and feet had been mauled by mosquitoes. Oops!

Today found me getting this Macintosh laptop working (who knew that Brazil is anti-Apple? I do now!) and getting online to... sigh... work. Yes, I still have to do some work while I'm here, but hopefully not too much! But after that triumphant deed (which would not have been possible without Max, who knows nothing about Macs but is just one of those computer guys - or perhaps Max inherently understands Macs? Doh - sorry,I couldn't help myself), I finally went out to explore Barra.

Sights to be seen! The Porto da Barra (main beach), and the Farol da Barra - a lighthouse originally built in 1534 which also houses a small nautical museum. The museum features items from various wrecks (guess the light was out), models and illustrations of Portuguese vessel evolution (there's even a drawing of a Neanderthal on a log!), and - coolest of all - those same ships done in miniature, in bottles. Yes, an entire display of ships in bottles, about 16 of them, all relevant to the museum. It was awesome. Then on to Morro Do Cristo, where a friendly statue of Jesus holds one hand out to the sea ushering the ships in. (Maybe the aforementioned wrecks couldn't see him, although he is painted white.)

There were also lots of lizards on the lawn admiring the view. Lizards the size of my foot. I'm not afraid of lizards - I like them very much. Unless they hiss at me or show some teeth or something; that's just not friendly. I didn't have to worry about friendly though - there was enough whistling and hooting coming from the inside of cars or male passers-by to let everyone in town know that everyone in town is more than friendly. I don't know how some of these guys are able to have conversations, since they are a bit preoccupied with just about every woman on the street. I have to admit, hearing anyone drawl out "liiiiinda" at me (which means "beautiful") as I pass, with my hair big from humidity sticking in a stringy mess to my sweaty back and getting caught under my armpits, and flaring mosquito bites all over my legs and feet, was kind of nice. Until I heard the next lady get it too - then you start to think, maybe it's all about sheer numbers and probabilities.

I found a supermarket on the way back, and had to go in. Cheese - I needed cheese! And while I was at it, I figured I might as well pick up some fruit and stuff. In the check out line, the lady behind me was singing. She was the best singer I'd heard so far, and I couldn't help but smile. She was in her fifties, a little chubby with curly black and gray hair, wearing a fetchingly patterned brown and beige floral print shirt. (Brown & beige flowers? It's new to me too.) When she caught me smiling, it only encouraged her. She started to do a little dance too, and hammed up the singing a bit. Now the checker and I were both laughing. She said something funny then, and I really wish I knew what it was.

I got home and started washing my fruit when I felt a tickle on my arm. I assumed it was just another scraggly flyaway hair, but no, it was a white spider about 2 inches wide. I HATE spiders. Not in a screamy girl kind of way, but in a "that spider no longer exists in any universe" kind of way. It was living in the grapes. I found its little spider home. Obliterated that too.

Dinner eaten, beach washed off (of course, I walked along the shore as much as possible), and hair... um... ignored, I settled in to indulge in a little TV. Really. One channel shows all sorts of American TV in English. Hey, I'm a bit jetlagged, okay? Besides, I would never have seen my new favorite commercial in the whole world, which I will now share with you.

And now, to figure out what comes next...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Wrappin' It Up

Today I finished up on the last Little Radio show I'll be doing this year... Despite starting an hour late due to being locked out of the space, we had a good time, right? Right!

Here are the details:

Little Radio Playlist

Out There On the Ice - Cut Copy
Blue Nile - Gang Gang Dance
She Dies - A Place to Bury Strangers
Kim & Jessie - M83
Ice Cream Love - Johnny Osbourne
Furr - Blitzen Trapper
D.A.R.L.I.N.G. - Beach House
Attraction Action Reaction - The Aisler's Set
Such A Joke - Vivian Girls
Big Bird - Eddie Floyd
Euphoria - Bart Davenport
Your Mama Wants You Back - Betty Davis
Hit That - M.I.A.
Magic - Ladyhawke
The Green Harbor - Deastro
Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me - The Pipettes
Let It Fall - Lykke Li
Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s) - Los Campesinos
Lost Coastlines - Okkervil River
Devastation - The Besnard Lakes
Minutes of the Day - Bill Janowitz & Crown Royal
World on Fire - Tanya Donnely
Sweetie Come Brush Me - John Holt

I won't be back on Little Radio until the new year, but if you get lonely for the sound of my obnoxious voice, download podcasts here.

And thank you!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hugh Jackman Got Me Pregnant!

I'm just kidding.

Really, I saw "Australia!" the other day, and he is so goddamn butch in it, I swear that I conceived immaculately just from watching.

Oh, and I loved the movie. I also love all other Baz Lurhman films. Really!

And speaking of totally gay musicals - have you seen this?

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Completely genius.