Monday, June 8, 2009

Da Sotero Politano a Carioca

Igreja Bonfim. The story behind this church is as follows. There were some fishermen that got stranded at sea during a storm and could not find their way back. One day, they saw a wooden Christ on a cross and they picked it up. They prayed to it, promising that he guided them to land they would build a church in his honor. The mixture of Catholicism and Candomble is celebrated at this church.

We met Eduardo outside of the church who is a native Bonfimian and regular parishioner there who essentially smuggled us in to a type of bendiciones (blessing) room and then negotiated for our stay of a few minutes. There were hollow wax body parts hanging from the ceiling symbolizing how Bonfim had granted them miracles with their ailments as well as pictures of those healed, this is similar to those offered to Hermano Pedro in Guatemala.

Mont Serrat and lighthouse by day. Not as exciting as when it was full of people.

Mercado Modelo. Probably one of the most organized central markets I’ve seen, similar organization to the goods market in Krakow, Poland. T-shirts, paintings, music instruments, capoeira pants, and jewelry made from a type of straw-like plant with a small white flower. (pictured: pair of earrings mom bought)

Pelhourinho. Still no Havaianas. The shop is apparently not operating at all.

Left for Rio de Janeiro.

Plane is signed by 22,000 TAM airlines employees.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Forts and Nightly Dancing

In search, again, for the famous Havaiana shop in Pelourinho. We finally find the street after asking a local (which has been renamed—the New York times and Frommers should update their information on this shop). The shop is closed without any kind of signage as to when it is open. We decide to wing it until Monday before we take off to Rio de Jaineiro.

The Mercado Modelo is temping as we pass by it to get the dock where we went by boat to Forte São Marcelo which is off shore, completely circular and obviously surrounded completely by water. According to the very broken English of the tour guide, who insisted on saying everything in English as well although we understood more of her explanations in Portuguese, this is one of only three round forts in the world. We reached to top of it as the sun was setting, providing some spectacular views of the ocean’s horizon, the boats coming to shore, and a panoramic view of the old town.

Later on, we were picked up and given a night tour with co-founder and director of Balé Folclórico da Bahia, (who we know, so no, this is not random). He took us to Igreja do Bonfim, Mont Serrat fort and Pointa de Humaitá where it was very dark but there were still a lot of people eating on tables, and others dancing and playing music beneath the front of the church overhang which looks out unto the water.

Barra lighthouse/forte, Forte São Marcelo and forte Mont Serrat, create a triangle and therefore an excellent defense by either land or sea.

Shrimp Mocaque and Caipirinha for dinner was just what we needed.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Axé do Soteropolitano

Axé= deriving from the Candomble religion to mean “good vibration” is used to refer to how one is going to act, for example our tour guide asked how are we going to be? And we answered Axé. Axé has also become a popular music genre with roots in Bahia.

Sorteropolitano= is used to refer to the people of Salvador da Bahia. They used to be called salvadorenho (Salvadoran) up until the about the 1950’s when they changed it to Sorteropolitano to differentiate themselves from the Central American salvadorenho of El Salvador. They took the name from the greek roots sotero meaning savior (just like Salvador does in Spanish and Portuguese) and polis meaning city.

After debating whether to take the originally recommended tour because there had been a problem on the one conducted the previous day, the owner of the guesthouse tried to arrange for a private tour but we couldn’t do it in time so we took a chance with the original company. We are glad we did!

Wilson was an excellent guide that was not only knowledgeable but also recounted events and facts as though telling a story with a lot of energy and charisma. He even serenaded in French to show off yet another language he knows well.

We began at Farol da Barra which also served as a look out point/fort.

Pelô, or Pelourinho as it is officially called, is the old city center of Salvador da Bahia. Filled with cobblestone streets and restored buildings, this center is named after a torture device used to punish slaves and criminals. This device, called a pelourinho, used to hang outside of a house.

After taking the Elevador Lacerda—literally an elevator--that is the fastest way to get from the lower city to the upper city, we stopped at the first Jesuit school and church that was founded in the town. This beautifully adored church was decorated by Chinese artisans because all decorations for the church, barring the sculptures, were considered to be apprentice work and not a master artisan’s work. The Chinese influence is somewhat apparent, but once it becomes pointed out, it becomes even more obvious. Some of these hidden images are Chinese masks, and even two interlocking dragons on the main alter.

Igreja São Francisco, also known as the Golden Church, because of it’s heavily adored gold motif interior, was also not decorated by the Portuguese but instead by slaves. Approaching a slave rebellion, the artisans made real life genitalia for the miniature angels. This was a stance against the Catholic Portuguese. Catholicism was imposed on slaves that were brought to Brazil from Africa. From this and their own practices of Candomble came a morphed practice that is still used today, especially in the Bahia area.

Free caipirinhas to start off our delicious dinner traditional Bahian fare: Mocaque ou ensopado de Peixe—farofa de azaite de dendé e Pirão (essentially fish stew with rice, fish broth thickened in palm oil with manioc, and toasted manioc flour sautéed in palm oil. We cleared our heart vessels with some excellent Brazilian wine—Terra Nova Shiraz from Vale do São Francisco.

Balé Folclórico da Bahia was a thrilling experience and a great way to end the night after a day of Bahian history. This dance company is considered to be the best folk dance company in the world. We had seen a performance of theirs in Berkeley because my uncle managed them when they did their US tour. While the performance in Berkeley included a large ensemble, and about a thousand in crowd attendance, the theater in Bahia was a contrast. The theater in Pelô, it probably seats no more than 60 people tightly and the seats are blocks which you can sit cross-legged on and the stage is about 5 feet away from the first row. Sitting in the second, it was difficult to not get enveloped into the trance that the Orixas (gods and goddesses) went into during their presentation of a Candomble ceremony. We though we might be burned by the second performance that included a dancer who balanced fire in bowl on his head and hands and then proceeded to light a torch and quite gracefully rub the flames against his body and arms…a trail of flames was left momentarily on his body. The third included a dance will real machetes that sparked during the fighting scenes. And finally, the performance ended with capoeira.

Bahian night

We enjoyed the Balé Folclorico da Bahia. Listened to music and saw dancing on the street--all very usual activities for the town. Following is a video snippet of one of the streets we saw.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Travel and day one: Salvador da Bahia

Travel and day one: Salvador da Bahia

Leaving San Francisco in the early morning, we began our 26 hour journey down to Brazil. By way of New York, we took TAM airlines which flew us into São Paolo on a 9 hour flight, where I watched four films and slept for an hour before they woke everyone up for breakfast. It was good that we had three hours for our connecting flight to Salvador da Bahia because we used 2 ½ of it to get through customs and re-check our bags. The instant peeling off of clothing was a must even at 10 o’clock in the morning because the Bahian heat was quite penetrating. The airstrip (airport) is right along the water, separated by palm trees and some small houses. The drive to Barra, the part of town were we are staying, gave a glimpse of this very tropical town. We drove under bamboo which grew on either side and joined in the middle creating a canopy.

Who ever said that wearing flip-flops, shorts, and exposed skin was not only an instant give-away that you are a tourist, but even more so that you are an American tourist? Just about everybody. Well, Bahia is apparently different than any Latin American or European country I’ve ever been too. Lots of skin, shorts, and Havaianas are the ways of the natives.

Barra Guest House is run by Russel and his wife Keyko. We were greeted with maps, information, juice, and the promise of free nightly Caipirinhas (national cocktail of Brazil made with 40 proof cachaça (distilled from sugarcane), lime, and sugar) at 7PM with the other guests.

Nap this afternoon. Bahia is 4 hours ahead of California

(***Pictures are going to be a slower process***)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Before there was Brazil...there was Bahia!"

Salvador da Bahia is on the northeast coast of Brazil. It is the oldest city and first capital of Brazil, and one of the oldest colonial cities of the new world. Referred to as just Bahia by most, it's known as Brazil's happiness capital due to the easy going nature of the people and the relaxed atmosphere that is offered by this coastal town. I'm looking forward to experience the growing arts movement, the architecture of 16th century churches, and capoeira.