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!