It’s Good to Be in Buenos Aires!

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Martes 17 Noviembre

I arrived here at sunset by ferry from Colonia, Uruguay.

Our boat was welcomed by a sprouting of sky scrapers. Canary Wharf springs to mind, I feel a strange comfort. I imagine being an early immigrant arriving in this new land (before the skyscrapers) fleeing adversity and seeking some fortune.

Early migrants travelled from Britain to Argentina (www.bbc.co.uk)

Early 20th century European migrants to Argentina included the Fraser family from Britain. Many moved south to try their luck in Patagonia where their heritage still exists. (source: http://www.bbc.co.uk)

Puerto Madero y a small illuminated boat.

Puerto Madero y a small illuminated boat.

My backpack feels huge, like I’m giving someone a piggy back. I wish it were lighter…smaller…but on this trip, with plans to head south to Patagonia just like the Fraser family, I included a tent and camping kit plus hiking boots…oh, and a 36″ hula hoop. This is the consequence 🙂

On emerging from Puerto Madero I haggle for a good taxi fare to Colegiales where Matti lives. We met through Capoeira in Salvador. I stay with him for my first few days and he helps me get organised with a Subte transport card + phone sim + phone apps to translate this matrix of calles /streets y colectivos /buses y barrios /neighbourhoods.

 

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“Oh no” for Alfajores!

Matti also introduces me to ‘Alfajores’….oh dear, my Achilles heel twerks: they’re like a ultra-uber-mega-souped up Wagon Wheel with a smother of dulce di leche in the middle. To update you: ‘dulce di leche’ is one of the pillars on which Argentine gastronomy is rooted 🙂 A condensed milk caramel, it’s ubiquitous here and heavenly to taste. Danger!

Alfajore

‘A’ is for Alfajor

Euro-Vibes

I feel a distinct absence of culture shock being here in Buenos Aires. I keep reminding myself that I’m no longer in Europe but thousands of miles across an enormous expanse of ocean. According to the Portenos/ Buenos Airean locals, many profess Italian descent; the architecture here is a mixture of Italian, French and Spanish baroque as well as Art Nouveau and Deco. All in all the Euro-vibe starts to make sense.

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This is a Swing City!

As always the local Swing dance scene is my faithful key, travel companion, my portal into a parallel experience. Buenos Aires is blessed with a bulging scene of daily classes and social dances. I am overjoyed and overwhelmed! Where does one triple step to first?!

Celeste y mi

Celeste and I after her super class above a bookshop in San Telmo / A pilgrimage place for Swing dancers the world over: Herrang!

Lovely Celeste meets me at a Big Band night in Belgrano, my first night on the town. She’s been non-stop all day with rehearsals for the forthcoming CAPOS (Campeonato Porteno de Swing/ Buenos Aires Swing Dance Championships). We met back in August in Sweden at the infamous Herrang Dance Camp.

Thankfully, she advises which classes to take and introduces me to two Americans who have lived here in the big Latino Smoke for the past year, Heather and Blake.

'Baila Swing' con Lu Salinas y Jose

‘Baila Swing’ con Lu Salinas y Jose Zarazaga.

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Swing San Telmo with Celeste y Mariano.

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Swingin’ Nights at the Niceto Club. Free Entry with my Swing City membership card 🙂

Tiempo para Aprender Espanol/ Time to learn Spanish

I take the leap and enroll myself on one week of Spanish classes on Suipacha from Lunes/ Monday. I must learn the language here! no excuses. This is a valuable lesson learnt from never-quite-grasping Portuguese in Brasil to any level other than limited casual chat.

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Medialuna = 'Half moon'

Medialuna = ‘Half moon’. Croissant cafe bakeries are everywhere in Buenos Aires.

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After a couple of days of four-hour classes plus afternoon orientation tours, I’m tired but go along to Swing City dance classes nearby on Sarmiento. This is the Escuela de Baila Swing/ Swing dance school of jazz dance star Juan Villafane, Mariel Gastiarena y Manuel Bicain Goral. The mirrored studio is great, there are students a plenty, …..remarkably the Leads outnumber the Follows! and the class content is generous and challenging. !! HURRAH !!

I think I’m going to like it here 🙂

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Juan y Candela

Candela Mendez y Juan Villafane.

Discovering Candomble on Itaparica, Part 1

Bem vindo :-)

Bem vindo 🙂

Sabado 28 June

I became acquainted with some inspiring and hospitable visiting artists in residence on the island of Itaparica. Much to my extreme luck they invited me to join them at an all-night and very special Candomble ceremony.

“Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion. It was born of a people who were taken from their homes in Africa and transplanted to Brazil during the slave trade. The religion is a mixture of traditional Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs originating from different regions in Africa, and it has also absorbed some details from the Catholic faith over time.

The name itself means ‘dance in honour of the gods’ with music and dance being important parts of Candomblé ceremonies.”

-Quoting from http://www.akalatundedotcom.wordpress.com

Today in Bahia, the heart of Afro-Brasilian culture, Candomble is practiced with great reverence, pride and even secrecy (to nurture away from the vampiric tendency of tourism). As an anthropology geek I felt enormously privileged to gain access to this occasion.

Here’s what Happened According to my Diary:

“I have an afternoon siesta and then take an evening boat to Itaparica. The journey is a joy. Early evening, cool breeze, a quiet boat with a few locals. I take this time to think and reflect. As we get closer to Itaparica I can the see the pretty church illuminated like a beacon.

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A boat bobbing in the water as my ferry arrives at Mar Grande, Itaparica. 'Negao de Ogum' = 'Denial of Ogum'

A boat bobbing in the water as my ferry arrives at Mar Grande; ‘Negao de Ogum’=’Denial of Ogum’. Wherever you wander on Itaparica you’ll notice Ile Aye references as this pretty island is the richest in Candomble heritage, preservation and practice. Ogum or Egun is the Orixa I was expecting to be in the company of that very night.

I arrive on the island and take some time to soak up the busy life of the praca by the large old church. Families and children everywhere. I love the outdoor play and social mingling in this country. I sit down next to a voluptuous Mae and her little boy having a cuddle and wish I could join them in this affection.

Food stalls, moto taxi, playground is buzzing. Lights, movement, dogs.

I imagine the Christians, colonisers and even further back, the Indians and their impression of this place on first arriving. When did time begin here? I am yet another visitor, my feet padding on to the shore, a new arrival. One of billions over the course of time.

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I haggle and finally agree on a taxi ride to Instituto Sacatar – sleepy rural dirt track roads, such a different vibe here, horse in the street, red earth, a tropical version of where I grew up. Humility, peace, a natural place.

We (Eun Jung, Guillermo, Cecile, Jon, Niki and Cristina) go to the meeting house together by VW Combi van. I arrive a little late and only just catch them in the dusk light.

We arrive at the Ile Aye Tumtum Olokotum hall

‘Ile Aye’ = ‘House of Life’.

It’s simple building with a corrugated iron roof surrounded by tall palm trees. As we approach the narrow dirt rack to the hall I see women in Bahian white headwrap, lace and cotton walking ahead; a sign that something’s afoot.

I try to imagine for a moment the frame of mind of a local Camdomble follower in the lead up to a ceremony. I only have childhood Church to compare it with…feeling bored with a resigned sense of obligation. But this is a faith that has survived the test of time…displacement…cruelty. It’s a time capsule. A fundamental root. A family. I sense excitement!

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Red Axes and White Cotton

We go inside the hall full of local people in their Candomble best. Women, men and children of all ages, amazing colourful clothes, arms and legs covered in respect, floral prints of every variation in lucious fabrics I feel I could be at a wedding. There’s a pleasant hub-bub. We are welcomed as guests and as women, given long skirts to wear.

There are red axe shaped decorations and big palm branches on the walls…, ..lots of long red and white bunting hangs from the entire ceiling. We wander further up to find a place to sit and see the most wonderful axe shape of fresh green leaves there on the concrete floor. An altar? It’s about 3 metres square.

The kitchen, just off the area of worship, is busy.

 

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Communicating with Spirits

We are introduced to the priest and he explains, “when the ceremony begins Spirits of the Dead are invited into this sanctified place. As newcomers this can leave our own spirit vulnerable to possession and so, we are instructed:

“Don’t look at or touch Egun. Don’t speak to him. Don’t use your cell phone”

As a second course of protection he guides us to wash our eyes three times from a small dish of water. He wears a bright red voluimous tunic + white floppy hat. He looks amazing.

We admit a great sense of anticipation.

Eun Jung notices a rooster in the corner bound and moving helplessly.

Teenage boys practise drumming beforehand, warming up. Hip clothes – skinny jeans and baseball cap on top of their heads. In contrast to other men and young lads in regal traditional African garb. They are handsome and striking. Their drums wrapped in beautiful pink patterned fabric bows and of three different sizes.

Scribblings from my raggedy notebook.

Scribblings from my raggedy notebook. Rightfully so, cameras and cell phones were forbidden but no one seemed to mind me making notes and the occasional drawing.

And so Part One of the ceremony began.

The door of the hall is locked to keep the spirits inside and everyone safe. 

The congregation is divided according to gender with men and women sitting in two separate camps. 

The priest sings and calls out. Different sequences of rhythms. The drums are very loud. Metal percussion instruments. A band of boys and men.

As the singing and drumming begin a group of about thirty women get up and circle the axe of leaves. They sway, dance in simple symbolic movements and sing their hearts out. They sing and clap around the AXE.

One of the dancers wears a Hello Kitty t-shirt with her long floral skirt. This makes me smile. 21st century Candomble.

Candomble Itaparica (8)

Bronte dresses from 1830 + Tropicalia colour.

Bronte sibling fashion from 1830 + Tropicalia colour  (image refs: L, Antonella Delvecchio, Bottom R, revistacriativa)

Step forward, step back, arms swaying. Turn and repeat. Hips and elbows swaying to and fro to the rhythm.

Ankle length skirts, like 18C Bronte sisters meets Tropicalia. A shimmying wave, pulse of floral prints with ribbon trim at the bottom.

A man arrives wearing a cool cream crochet beret, French style, beatnik. He’s also wearing a white and silver embroidered tunic, white trousers and matching white brogue slip-ons. Such a dandy!! He about 60 years old. As he bellows out a song with everyone else I notice his two front teeth are missing which only adds to his charm.

The Dandy is full of humour and play. Calling out to specific women who smile and sing back a response.

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Several sequences are danced and sung out, calling up the Spirits of the Dead. …Different rhythms, different songs….. Part One comes to a close as the women convoy down the hall in a grand finale  free flowing dancing queue and then back up to circle around the axe leaf altar.

Catholicism and Candomble

Small Orixa statues in the corner? A candle is lit to acknowledge them. I look later to discover that they are Catholic saints.

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It’s midnight when  Part Two begins…..

Discovering Candomble on Itaparica, Part 2

A Sacrifice

A group of men take up long bamboo canes and take their turn to circle the leaf Axe. They bob up and down, singing and calling, striking their canes to the floor to keep the Spirits of the Dead at bay.

A goat is brought to the centre of the circle from a side room. She wears a white and red cloth across her back, covered in axe symbols. …..A sacrifice?

I feel sick and wish I hadn’t eaten the pre-ceremony welcome of coffee and salgados.

Questions, struggles rise up in my mind regarding my own beliefs, morals and being predominantly vegetarian other than occasional fish, my comfort zones, …how open minded am I really…..?!!

A Feast Worthy of the Gods

Beyond the Axe centrepiece woven mats are lay out and a feast to honour the Orixa is set: three massive clay dishes of offal and chicken feet, live birds – the rooster, a dove…. More vessels of food and drink that I can’t discern…. The men pick up a vessel each or flapping bird and carry as they continue to circle the Axe.

Everyone singing now, calling, clapping. I glance a very old lady singing her heart out, she has a toothy grin. Her frame is tiny, she is in full white lace regalia. Another vision of beauty to me.

Lights flicker. Hanging bulbs. Film noir.

I naturally make these associations:

Singing out = Hymns

Place of worship, a long cool humble interior, corregated roof = The village halls I know from tea dances in rural Norfolk.

Waft of leaf and palm = evokes memory of Christmas tree pine

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A cloaked figure appears from the side room

Literally a walking blanket of dark grey with a skull embroidered in red at the natural height of a face. The figure swaggers and sways in a dance. A spooky swaying square. The theatrical effect is incredible!

The feet are covered by trousers that hang to the floor. Again: simple illusion so this figure looks even more other wordly.

Our human protectors huddle together and crack their canes towards the ‘spirit’ as if defending themselves from a predatory animal.

Egun Arrives

A second figure comes into the room – a beautiful Darlik. Is this Egun ,the Orixa who communes with the Dead? He is clothed in a wonderful decorative garment: head dress, face covered with a fringe of swinging beads, long cloak of ties & godets – contrasting fabric, the outer of mirrored shapes and seashells reminding me of a Rajastani textile.

He swings and sways and grunts in a low non-threatening voice ….like Yoda! a vaguely human sound.

His costume carries with it a symbol.

As the Orixa approaches us, the audience, the men rabble around and use their canes to maintain a safe distance. One or two women sat next to Eun Jung and I whisper, and remind us not to risk looking up at him with a direct gaze! It’s so hard not to gaze directly at something you find beautiful. Like a dancing Christmas tree.

This is a marvelling mixture of theatre, threat and the awe of discovering a new species or alien.

The dancing, twirling, convulsions continue. This bird of paradise is in full movement, momentum and MAGIC are the result. When Egun finally leaves the room the session pauses to break.

I’m tired and bewitched. It’s 2a.m.

WOW! WOW! WOW!!!  This – is – AMAZING!!

We eat a tasy supper of rice and vegetables. Everyone else, with chicken. The people here are warm and hospitable.

Cecile, Cristina and I talk over our impressions, our inspiration. Cecile tells me about Pierre Verger and Roger Bastide. Two French authors and anthropologist experts of Candomble.

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Clockwise from Top L: Pierre Verger, 1952 / His photograph of Candomble priestess / Roger Bastide / One of several books he wrote about Afro-Brasilian culture.

The bamboo canes cast shadows against the wall.

Row of 13 chairs, each unique and regal in appearance. They are covered in folkloric detail. A long winding serpent, plants, flowers and symbols carved into their wooden surface. Some have metal detail, other upholstered with pretty textile. Most are old and very rustic, humble. They are magical.

I wander outside, against the advice given: now dead have been called up it’s unsafe to venture beyond the blessed retreat of the hall.

The night air is quite something.

Inside it’s humid and heavy, outside is fresh and calm.

Tall silhouetted palm trees and cicadas.

A huge glowing fire, embers floating up to the sky, crackles.

A huge tree stands by the fire and entrance to Ile Aye, like a Tree of Knowledge.

Ley lines / Nasca lines / a Power Place 

The same red & white bunting from inside spans large areas outside, tied from tree to tree around the hall. As if the colourful orb is spider webbing out from that magical axe of leaves inside, a aura, a configuration on the earth big enough to be seen from space by spirits floating by.

I think of the Nasca lines in Peru. I imagine the colour, the channelled energy of the people, the ‘magic’ of this sacred interior extending and belting out rays of energy.

High up on my list of places to visit: The Nazca Lines in Peru

High up on my list of places to visit are The Nazca Lines in Peru. This mysterious pattern of desert geoglyphs can only be appreciated from an aircraft and are dated at over 2000 years old.

A spiderweb formation of bunting spanning out from this Ile Aye

A spiderweb constellation of bunting spanning out from the Ile Aye.

The final instalment of this Candomble ceremony begins with more surprises to come 🙂

Strange Brew – Ayahuasca

I find an amazing place to live on Morrão Sereia.

This name means ‘Mermaid Hill’ and Yemanja graffiti is everywhere. She’s the Orixa of the sea and the protector of fishermen. In fact, as an extremely old port, Yemanja’s name and image is woven into the very mindset of Salvador…..in shop signage, advertising, hotel names, street names.

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My bedroom view 🙂

 

Yemanja on the side of a hotel in Rio Vermelho.

Yemanja on the side of a hotel in Rio Vermelho and more mosaic in the Morrao.

A series of serendipitous events lead me to meet Suzy who has a spare room to rent. I’m taken to a magical place  right on the seashore where the waves crash right below the concrete patio. Her house is like a brightly coloured cave.

Bare concrete walls decorated with mosaic murals.

Bare concrete walls decorated with mosaic murals.

Gorgeous young cachorros / dogs that would greet and follow like affectionate children.

Gorgeous young cachorros / dogs that would greet and follow like affectionate children. This little troupe would sleep outside our door, on the window ledges, by the gate. Lots of wagging tails.

Life on the Morrao is unique. A labyrinth of alleys and tumbledown dwellings; windows and doorways at all different levels, narrow winding steps. These former fishermens’ cottages are part of an urban enclave completely disguised from the main road, like a tropical Narnia; a combination of favela, termite hill and jewel with mosaic, decorative tile and coloured glass here and there.

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Two chatty women passing the time of day o my regular cell phone ‘credito e coisas’ errand.

 

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Young lads playing dominoes in the L’Argo do Morrao/ the Square.

Quilombo

I joke one evening expressing my pleasure at discovering the doorway to this camouflaged world. Salvador is an intense city and this place provides some much needed respite. Suzy goes on to tell me about the Quilombos: fugitive slaves who formed a secret community here centuries before and in other secluded places like the Morrão.

Picture of Zumbi monument

Ayahuasca ‘plant medicine’

One evening I am invited to take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony. I’ve heard much about this hallucinogenic brew or ‘plant medicine’ and I’m really curious. I don’t intend to ‘imbibe’ but the invitation still stands and I join eight others at a nearby hovel, beautifully cosy inside.

Etiquette is shared and the ritual begins. Our host addresses us with words of devotion of the medicine that will take each of us on a personal journey to commune with the spirits of nature herself. He pours a measure per person and we take it in turn to enter the circle and drink – in my case, a half measure.

Divine Luz Universal / Divine Universal Light

Divine Luz Universal / Divine Universal Light

 

Santo Daime

Members of our circle play drums, flute, tambourine. They are amazing accomplished local musicians. We all sing ‘hinarios’ from a little hymn book of Santo Daime songs.

This is a relaxing colourful and charming place to be.

The lyrics leap off the page. They are bursting with beauty and describe with humility an adoration of the natural world. The language is simple and overall easy to understand; I feel a surge of inspiration and make discreet notes.

After another measure of the sacred brew I only feel content and relaxed, no strong affects. Others are ‘flying’ interspersed with visits to the banheiro to purge.

Weeks later, when I reach a peaceful rural retreat near Itacare, I paint some of these rich and poetic words. They’ve been living in my imagination since that long evening, roots have grown and they blossom into some paintings:

Grande Mae se manifesta

Grande Mae se Manifesta / Great Mother Manifests

Santo Daime is a religion founded in the 1930s by Mestre Raimundo Irineu Serra, the son of former slaves. It was during work on rubber plantation that he came into contact with people who taught him how to use Ayahuasca. In these early experiences he encountered the Virgin Mary (the Queen of the Forest) and began receiving spiritual guidance which developed into organised worship Santo Daime.

What evolved was a fascinating amalgamation of religious and spiritual threads: a Christian core is combined with other elements, such as an emphasis on self awareness and personal development, an Animist appreciation of nature, such as the Sun, Moon and Stars, as well as the totemic symbol of the ‘beija flor’, the hummingbird. Links with Shamanism can also be made.

Ilumina os meus Caminhos

Divine Luz Ilumina os meus Caminhos / Divine Light Illuminates my Ways

Inflorescencia

Inflorescencia / Inflorescence

Na Bencao do Beijaflor

Na Bencao do Beija Flor / The Blessing of the Hummingbird

Must Grow

‘Must Grow!’ My own words on spending time in the wilderness near Itacare.

Bahia Calling

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Casa de Yemanja. A meeting house for local fishermen and home to a shrine for this Sea Orixa (goddess) who is celebrated EVERYWHERE here!

Oh handsome land, I’m pleased to meet you!

I’ve arrived in ‘Little Africa’ as my Manchester pal Nuradin calls it. The bountiful fruit basket of Brasil. Archetypal images of Brasil depict Bahia first and foremost – palm trees along big white sand beaches, seafood, colourful sweet fruit, hibiscus flowers, lush jungle and beija flors (hummingbirds), statuesque people with black skin and green eyes.

Bahia map Collage

Even Brasilians go all misty eyed upon mention of this region which is thirty hours by road north easterly or a three hour flight.

Back in Sao Paulo, Bahian Ayume played me this music video by Salvadoran superstar Creole. The imagery says it all 🙂

 

The City of Salvador

Perhaps it because I’m finally in the swing of my travels, stringing together the lingo, feeling less like a stiff European but there seems SO much to explore here. I’m over-excitedly-whelmed – there are good vibrations on the Baiano breeze – it’s a melange that I looking forward to truffling my snout through.

I Couchsurfed with Luciano and his kind family in Salvador during my first week. Their apartment, a stone’s throw from Praia (beach) de Piata is where I walked the family pug and ran across the sand into the sea.

Formerly known as: São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos meaning City of the Holy Saviour of the Bay of all Saints this historic hotpot of a cidade was the first colonial capital of Brasil and the city is one of the oldest in the New World (founded in 1549 by Portuguese settlers). It was also the first slave market on the continent, with slaves arriving to work on the sugar plantations from Angola, Benin, Nigeria.

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Mosaic is also everywhere here. And graffitti. All in all: a visual feast.

 

‘Futebol’

The beach is buzzing early in the morning when local people are there enjoying the cool air. Men and boys play football right up and down the beach. The ball bounces towards the sea, they tackle in the waves. Some teams are more ’official’/organised that others with coloured bibs.

Lots of beach dogs, laying spread eagle or randomly barking. Their seem to hang out with the fishermen who, like others live on the beach as far as I can tell. Simple homes can be seen in amongst some of the ‘coqueiros’ (palm trees). I’m reminded of the equivalent fishermen huts on the Black Shore in Southwold, Suffolk where I’ve wandered since childhood.

Discovering Pelourinho and Santo Antonio

I take the bus to the Centro Historico and meet Monika in Pelourinho. It’s a happy coincidence that we’re both in Salvador at the same time. We worked together in Rio and became firm friends.

And oh—oh—OH! —this is a stunning place. I feel as though I’m suddenly in renaissance Europe,…..Italy or Portugal. This is one of the best preserved old towns in Brasil and it really does take your breath away.

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Decorative features at every turn and a sweet shop palette of colour to boot. Is this place real?!

The name Pelourinho meaning Pillory, comes from the central whipping post “where slaves received punishment for various infractions, as well as for disciplinary purposes” (- Wikipedia). Crikey, this place is STEEPED in history and poignancy. It’s both an awe inspiring and thought provoking place to be.

Monika and I wander the cobbled streets through this neighbourhood on to the sleepier more residential yet equally colourful Sao Antonio. Sipping a couple of 4R$ (£1) cans of Schin beer the two of us perch in a Praca outside an old church with children playing and local families relaxing all around. Dreamy!

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Salvador criancas

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Salvador edificio antigo4   IMG_3192

 

“The Hills are Alive!” in Chapada Diamantina

A happy twist of Fate

After a failed hitch hiking attempt from Arembepe, Monika and I bought the last two seats on a late bus to Lencois. We were on a mission to get to the big green spaces of Chapada Diamantina, one of Brasil’s national parks.

Feeling gun-ho and on very low budgets we were heading out into the night on this seven hour journey with no accommodation arranged for our arrival. Well, in this climate, a park bench could always be an option.

In spite of our gaul, we began chatting to Samuel, our neighbour on the bus who promptly offered us a place to stay.

Jungle flora - One of many Morra

‘Diamantina’ refers to diamond mining here during the mid 19th century – One of many Morros – Jungle cactus family flora.

And……..?!

…..Sam turned out to be the most amazing and wonderful person!

We alighted with him in Palmerias – a sleepy town, exactly like that from a classic Western film. He fired up his safari style Land Rover Defender and the three of us went speeding off. —–As fast as you can along the very bumpy red dirt track—- into the starry night to Capao.

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A Brasilian one horse town with buildings dating from the late 1800s. I kept imagining life back then…how the locals might’ve have dressed, exchanged daily conversation, slang, gossip, comings and goings….

The Secret Communidade of Capao

The next morning we awoke cradled in Sam’s jungle dwelling surrounded by bush and mountains. The smell of locally grown coffee, pina fruit and warm buttered ‘integral’ bread rolls wafted up to our mezzanine level.

Sam sleeps in a big hammock on the ground floor.

After ‘café do manha’ we ventured through the labyrintine tracks, lined with abundant green foliage and hibiscus flowers to a nearby waterfall. We swan starkers, dozed in the sunshine and drank from the fast flowing streams we passed….

Blossom and colour everywhere.

Blossom and colour everywhere.

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All of this following a previous day of sketchy plans and a chance meeting. Hurrah for Magic! Serendipity/ Coincidence/ Intuition/ Care-less-free-ness!

Over the two weeks that followed Monika and I had the most idyllic time getting to know Capao: a very small town with an alternative vibrant community of families, a local circus, lots of vegetarian food, random horses in the street.

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The local Moto Taxi point, school gates and circus. ‘Criancinhas’ = Small children.

In search of Aguas Claras e Morro Tabor

This is trekking territory and most days we had a destination cashoeira (waterfall) in mind. We got to know Steffa, another solo backpacker from Hawaii. The three of us went camping out into the wilderness.

Here are some words from my notebook:-

“Red dirt tracks, motorbikes, trucks, dust clouds….turned into insects, cicadas, wild flora, cactus, pink rock, sloping green hills and mountains.

We reach Aguas Claras and pitch up.

Enormous bats come out at night where we camp; the sound of frogs calling to each other throughout the night is like a relentless and eventually relaxing car alarm.

The next day – dappled light and shadow over the land. It’s only us – there’s no one else in sight. No alien sounds. We climb the mountain, skipping up like mountain goats initially. Then scramble.”

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Steffa, Monika and I, some big country to explore and ‘Space flowers’ with white bobble blossom, very sci-fi to us and once endangered.

“I wonder how many other feet have trodden on these boulders, stones, wedged their fore feet into the nooks between plants and rocks?

Small universes exist at every level, nestled into the mountainside. Like a favela and skyscraper of nature. Spiderwebs span space between rocks: imagine being a spider living here – looking out each morning on this panorama?!

We continue to climb…figuring out our way as we clamber and hug the mountainside.—- – looking for hand holds and gaps for toes to pull ourselves up. You look back over your shoulder and see the drop – the space – the beauty!”

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Gringas/ Hobbits on the uncertain path to Mordor….er-hum!…I mean: Morro Tabor.

“As we reach the top the terrain flattens. ‘chapada’=plateau: a wonderful Eden up here! Lots of tropical plants, like a garden, lush and green but succulent-like too, prickily.

I ponder —–these plants have all been born here and reproduce, -up here-, away from the towns and cities, away from people…..growing, evolving, with their insect companions….this world, one that doesn’t need the help or attention of anyone or anything…..enjoying and feeding from the daily sunshine, rain, wind…..

And the insects, flying here and there amongst this plant kingdom and then off the edge of this magnificent peak, dipping in and out of the ‘villages’ on the side of this huge entity.”

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Half way up the magnificent Morro Tabor. As big hilly lumps fare this one was a beauty.

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A Space flower up close!

A Little Town called Lencois

Monika and I camped in a mango orchard in Lencois over a long weekend. This sounds quite charming but mango trees are vast in size and the swollen fruit would fall at random from branches on high with a loud *thunk!* on the ground. We both escaped ‘death by mango’ unscathed.

The town was gorgeous. Small enough to be relaxing and big enough to have a buzz of activity. Old buildings, cobbled streets – unassuming – humble – the gateway to more of Chapadaaaaaaaa.

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Home in a Mango Orchard.

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. Banks of the river, Lencois.

“Went for a hike to a waterfall and got waylaid in a kind of heaven: a lunar landscape of pink rock and several rock pools of orange water. The water is apparently full of iron hence the colour.

Families hang out, bathe and wash their clothes, The rocks are strewn with brightly coloured clothing, all smacked, stretched, clean and spread out in the sun to dry – like patchwork, big colourful squares glued to the contours of the rocky terrain.”

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Laundry day by the river.

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These women had no idea how pretty the results of their labour looked to us.

“Such a relaxed intimate place, we decide to stay and wallow too.

Warm sun, a cloudy sky….an aeroplane streaks across the sky in the far distance; it looks like a shooting star – ‘Estrela Cadente’. Children yelp and call….play…and easy adventure…jumping in and out of the cool golden water. Like mermaid people: “mer-folk.”

This the best playground ever.

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“A young girl has her hair combed, washed, groomed, tugged,…she sits there frowning. Babies are dunked, rubbed and rinsed.

This is a kind of Eden. An effortless paraiso.

Daily routines/chores/tasks are carried out here. To the locals this is not a big deal, but to me this is a special place.

Dogs are washed, soaped up and rinsed. Held still so they don’t run dirty soap suds all over the clean laundry. They rub their heads against the stone afterwards, to find a new natural scent.

Large reptilian spiders cling spread eagle on the edge of the rock near the water’s edge, soaking up the sun’s warmth – recharging, like eight legged batteries. They are pink brown in colour, well evolved in this landscape – gecko-like with a furry brown body; their black eyes glisten like caviar baubles, *alert* . I am fascinated.

Earlier in the day we see two bright green parrots calling as they chase across the sky. They are a happy surprise to us. There is beauty everywhere.

Like a Turkish bath from another century – a scene from a classical painting – and yet this is Bahia…on the banks of the river in a small sleepy town in 21st century Brasil.”

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A Pit Stop in Sao Paulo

“Whoosh! I’ve just left Sao Paulo and am reflecting on what a wonderful time I had there. Already, I’m planning my return” – Domingo 20 Abril

My very first impressions were ace: I passed through the city on my way to the Hopaholics Lindy hop dance camp back in February. That evening three skateboarders came whizzing down a main road against the flow of busy downtown traffic. How dashing – how daring! My teenage ninja heros!

Some Sao Paulo graffiti.

Some Sao Paulo graffiti.

My impressions on returning to Sao Paulo after Rio were not so good: oh crikey, what an UGLY place! Grey concrete high rises, scruffy graffiti and lots of street poverty. Last time I’d seen Sao Paulo at night and I think swooning over guerilla skateboarders had given me rose-tinted ‘oculos’.

However, over the mere two weeks that I spent within one of Planet Earth’s biggest urban jungles I began to glimpse something bright beyond the grey. Social slands of ´respite, light and delight’. Gem-like hives of rich creative activity that I devoured.

Let me tell you how it happened…..

Sweet graffiti of an African Mary.

Sweet graffiti Virgin Mary by the bus stop in Butanta.

 

Couchsurfing and Contemporary Dance  

Tercafeira 8 – I decided to get into the swing of Couchsurfing following Soyeon’s recommendation and my first hosts Amanda and Ayume couldn’t have been better.

Amanda had just returned home from a Contemporary dance class. Ooooh, interesting! We compared our experiences of flinging our bodies about, all in the name of creative freedom and self expression.

The following day Ayume and I cycled to the USP campus nearby. She´s a film student there and was still buzzing following a recent masterclass with Jean Pierre Jeunet, the maker of Amelie! We chattered about our favourite films as we pedalled around this clean organised green space full of handsome contemporary buildings. For a moment I felt that I was back at the equally zen UEA campus in Norwich, a favourite haunt of mine.

Needless to say: I love university campuses!

Varying banners of Political Protest at the cantina - USP Campus, Sao Paulo.

A political hoe down at the cantina – USP Campus, Sao Paulo.

That evening we took the Metro to Santa Cecilia to meet some of Ayume’s pals.

We sipped the most sour wine we’d ever tasted! but their company was fabulous: Luis, an actor and rising star, Fernanda a film maker of dance and Andre, a contemporary dancer who tours the globe. By the end of the night I felt thoroughly inspired.

They too seemed admiring of the attitude of a gal who leaves the comfort of home for a backpacking adventure with no set plan.

Performances at Pinacoteca 

Sabado 12 – On to the weekend and Amanda and I ambled over to Pinacoteca, one of the best public art galleries in the city. There, a cool installation of ceramic objects by Laertes Ramos filled the red brick atrium space. Wow, it was beautiful! and I couldn’t help but think what an excellent name Laertes is too 🙂

Bunker - Laertes Ramos

Casamata (Bunker) – Laertes Ramos

The beautiful atrium space at Pinacoteca, Sao Paulo,

Upstairs we found work by Tino Sehgal in the form of two dancers, a singer and an actor who animated the historic collection through roaming performance and reciting the words of the artist, ‘This is Propaganda’. As my interest in performance grows ever stronger this piece of work was a happy discovery.

Voodoo Hopping at Teatro Oficina

That night I went to meet Fernanda at the infamous Teatro Oficina. Tonight was a Voodoo Hop party and I was told to expect a Dionysian fiesta.

Teatro Oficina is uber avant-garde; their performances last several hours, include plenty of nudity, real sex and orgies, defecating on stage, blood, vomit……the whole shebbang! I couldn’t help but feel curious….

A bunch of fellows

A strange ginger Brasilian man I met in the Banhero Feminino – Fellow party-goers including a ‘Gringa’ from Mumbai, India – Projections inside the club.

On entering there was a barefoot policy so I left my shoes in the cloakroom. The interior was catherdral-like: clad with a tall industrial scaffold structure from which bodies writhed, part gymnast/part pole dancers. Behind a vast glass wall was a huge tropical garden. Andy Warhol’s Factory came to mind: communal, free, experimental.

I arrived late so missed the naked Flamenco dancer and other crazy business but played with a ‘bambole’ (hula hoop), watched lots of clothed love-making with a degree of English awkwardness and saw a Condomble infused performance that made me smile.

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Condomble rhythms and men dressed as Wombles wearing hairpieces of Loofers(!) A refreshingly barmy performance at Teatro Oficina.

 

Skateboarders at the Museu Afro Brasil

Domingo 13 – A Manchester friend put me in touch with his pal Lowri Evans. She’s a performance artist living between England and Sao Paulo. We met on Paulista last week and I quickly decided that she was one of the sincerely warmest people I’d met in a long time.

Lowri has been working on a year long performance project about the life and letters of social activist Roza Luxemburg with Sao Paulo based artists. Her Brasilian partner Rodolfo is also that way inclined as a founding member of alternative theatre company Grupo XIX.

Lowri Evans :-)

Lowri Evans 🙂

I bobbed over to the gigante Parque do Ibirapuera and went to the Museu Afro Brasil with Lowri, Rodolfo and another Inglesa, Alison. The museum is brilliant, go if you’re ever in Sao Paulo!

Afterwards, I filmed the resident skateboarders. They totally enhance the Niemeyer designed walk way that leads from the museum to the park.

 

David Bowie Is…..Cool

Tercafeira 15 – A V&A show I missed in London has toured to Sao Paulo: David Bowie Is. I caught it at the Museu Da Imagem e Do Som (Museum of Moving Image & Sound) before it closed on 24th April. As a lover of  fashion, alter egos and gender blending I left the show totally in love with this humble English creature (who turned into a butterfly).

The man sporting some wonderful heeled boots and high waisted trousers. Swoooon!

The man sporting some wonderful heeled boots and high waisted trousers. Swoooon!

Beautiful brilliant Bowie baby!

Beautiful brilliant Bowie baby!….on English TV show, Tops of the Pops.

 

Opening performance of ROZA

Sextafeira 18 – Following a week of rehearsals Lowri’s ROZA ‘espectaculo’ was opening that night. I was really excited to see it having heard snippets from behind the scenes.

This multi-layered multimedia masterpiece began with an intro by the Roza Band before launching into an improvised script, using an innovative stage arrangement, projections, film, theatre, !!passion!! (as was Roza Luxemburg’s character), and more music.

I sat there and like a sponge absorbed it all until full, not understanding all the Portuguese bits but enjoying this creative bubbling brew nevertheless. It was an incredible creation.

ROZA - Lowri Evans, Martha Kiss Perone & Lucia Bronstein. Photos by Marilia Scharlach.

ROZA – Lowri Evans, Martha Kiss Perone & Lucia Bronstein.
Photos by Marilia Scharlach.

After the show Lowri and I jabbered in our relaxed English tongue for a few moments before I met Celso a theatre director from Brasilia, Rita a contemporary dancer from Portgual, Edson drummer of the Roza Band and successful experimental musician along with many more friendly interesting folk.

GRUA (Gentlemen of the Street) Performance

Qunitafeira 17 – I caught a free performance by GRUA at old fashioned shopping centre Galeria Olido. Yet more inspiration. Performance and dance seems to ooze out the bricks of this city!

On this ocassion they combined Contemporary dance with Parkour and Capoeira and this, along with their gentlemanly attire woo-ed me! This is an earlier piece of work by the chaps.

 

Dancing on the Streets

Sextafeira 18 e Sabado 19 – After almost two weeks in Sao Paulo and many conversations and thoughts about favourite city spots I was ready to take to the streets and dance. And so was Adriana, my second generously spirited CS host.

We had lots of fun in the hot Sao Paulo sunshine. Something life affirming happens when passers-by are moved by the moment and dance along with me. Non-verbal communication: ” hello friend!”

Our final spot was Beco do Batman in Vila Madalena. It’s a back street alley covered plastered in graffiti and a dreamy location.

My favourite graffiti all in Beco de Batman.

My favourite graffiti wall down Beco do Batman/ Batman Alley.

 

Rockabilly for Desert 🙂

Early hours, Domingo 20 – It was my last night in Sao Paulo and despite having tired ‘corpos’ we couldn’t resist a bop at rockabilly club The Clock. This was just the ticket.

‘Muito cansado!’ became ‘muito animado!’ as soon as I heard that familiar Little Richard tune ‘Lucille’ booming from behind the entrance door. Something otherworldly came over me and I lept onto the dance floor almost immediately and bopped my socks off.

'BOP' til you DROP!