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.
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.
Mosaic is also everywhere here. And graffitti. All in all: a visual feast.
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.
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!
“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.
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 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!
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 🙂
Casamata (Bunker) – Laertes Ramos
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 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.
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 🙂
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!
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.
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 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.