The Eagle has Landed

Thursday June 16, 2005
Salvador, Bahia

Winter is a very subjective term. We’ve left behind the creeping, abnormally cold summer nights of California for the murky heat of Bahian June. Near as I can tell, the only difference between Brazilian summers and winters is the hour of sunset; the open windows still offer now relief from the hot night, and let in swarms of insects to buzz around the bare ceiling light.

I am not nearly so weary as I should be, considering. Even if I were, the thickly accented yet surprisingly soulful jazz rendition of Blowin’ in the Wind coming up from the adjacent dark alley would keep me wide awake. So much flying… Endless hours of cramped and sleepless monotony before landing in Salvador 26 hours after leaving SFO. We made it, however. We made it.

Permit me a moment of abstract bullshittery.

It’s very hard for one such as myself to not love a city like Salvador on sight. Sprawling, unkempt streets and plazas full of crumbling colonial buildings alongside ultramodern first-world plastic monsters. It’s glorious. I’m completely enamored with places like this. Whatever spiritual allergy causes me to spit and snarl at tract housing, strip malls, and sprawl-marts is utterly silent here. Sagging roofs of Spanish tile, twisting streets, narrow alleys… Left to my own devices, I’d probably wander and enjoy for weeks. I could spend an entire day in one of the rotting churches, if they weren’t full of god damn Catholics.

The crux of Brazil, however, is that one is never truly left to his own devices. The predatory poor, beggars and hustlers and junk vendors assaulted us from the moment our feet hit the cobblestones. I loathe this part. Certainly there are easier targets; two healthy, young males are probably the least susceptible to the street’s advances, but still they try. Relentlessly. Leave no American unbothered. Assholes. Soon they realize we speak enough Portuguese and understand enough culture to tell them to fuck off, politely or otherwise. And so we watch our step, avoid the dead ends and the hyena stares. After all, they’ve got home field advantage.

Such a great place, despite the riffraff. Portuguese, though halting and cumbersome, already comes more quickly to my lips and mind. Palm trees, bursts of rain, moldy stucco and bad wiring. Glorious.

Things are taking shape, as we knew they would. Failure is simply inconceivable, even on the first night of our journey. Our pousada is overpriced and insecure, tomorrow morning we’ll move to higher ground before the rats awake from their gutter homes. Tomorrow, we’ll cautiously approach a capoeira class. A dangerous endeavor for a couple of American yellow-belts without so much as a knife scar or broken nose between them. Here, capoeira never really made it off the streets. Certainly there are academies, but much of the strength and danger of Bahian capoeira still exists only in the rua. Remorseless, honorless violence thinly veiled by ritual; a dance with more than a hint of gang warfare. We’ll see, I suppose. Hopefully our humility, respect, and talent will win us more allies than enemies. Regardless, I don’t give myself much chance of getting out of Salvador without red stains on my white pants.

Already, the stress and depression of a California existence seems far gone, almost another lifetime, replace with drums in the night air and the smell of frying fish. The phones don’t work, of course. Reporting home will have to wait a few days.

So far the only person of interest we’ve met is a timid blond named Shanna, a nice girl who has almost single-handedly changed my opinion on the merits of a Southern accent. Reasonably educated, cute, and personable, her Mobile drawl didn’t grate against my mind the way it should have… Imagine that, me broadening my horizons. Or maybe I’m just making a biased exception for a friendly Southern Belle. Regardless, she gave Nate and I a third for Pasoy on the 11 hour flight from Houston to SP. Something else I learned: Texas has lots of trees. Who knew?

Two sleepless days are closing in on me, despite the pounding Candomble ritual a few blocks away. Drums in the night, friends.

Drums in the night.

10 PM, Rua do João de Jesus, Salvador, BA.


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