Monday, January 30, 2006

happy trails

30 jan 2006

We fly out today. By this time tomorrow I´ll be back in Bubbaland.

Yesterday was great. Everywhere we went, samba kept breaking out. On the way to have an early lunch, there was a samba de mesa in a little bar on the side street. Just a few friends singing songs and having a beer or two. The sort of bucolic scene which would immediately attract police brutality in Austin, the "live music capital of the world".

After that we went to Xuxa´s party in a quiosque behind the airport. Cool spot right on the Bahia Guanabara in a place which doesn´t smell bad. There were about 150 of Xuxa´s closest friends there. BBQ, beer, samba. There´s this cool group of folks called "sambamantes" (samba lovers) who go out together to enjoy live music, mostly samba. They were there and were playing and singing along with the boom box. I continue to be amazed at how everyone in Brazil knows all the words to all the songs. How can that be? I don´t even know the words to one song in English!!

Anyhow, a huge thunderstorm came through and so the Brazilians decided to fight back by partying even harder. So there we were, singing away in a driving rain storm with cars literally floating down the street. As the rain let up, a samba de roda broke out and everyone started switching off singing and dancing in the roda. As Spiro says, "Without the song, there is no rumba". Without the song, there is no samba de roda. Big fun.

We then walked back to Flamengo through the Aterro do Flamengo. Beautiful tropical park between the city and the bay. Finally wound up at the street corner in Catete, our usual Sunday hang. There was no bateria due to the rain but, in typical Brazilian fashion making lemonade out of lemons, there was a pagode. A good one. All about groove and the song. Everyone playing and listening. No drunks or show offs. There were venders with ice cold beer and churrasco. All the neighbors were there. It really doesn´t get much better than that.

Went to Parme pizza afterward for a light midnight snack of all-you-can-eat pizza. I don´t even know how many pieces I ate. At the end they bring things like chocolate and strawberry pizza with whipped cream on the side.

After that I fell into a little coma and woke up this morning still in paradise.

Off to the beach for one last walk. Tomorrow I´ll be dodging bowheads driving SUV´s and talking on cell phones.

Jacare signing off. j

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Don Quixote

29jan 2006

There are stages of drunkeness. I think they are somethihng like this:

1. You´re clever
2. You´re pretty
3. You can sing
4. You´re bullet proof
5. You´re invisible

Xuxa was up there in the higher reaches last night/this morning when he returned from Salgueiro. "You think you're Don Quixote" is in the bulletproof/invisible range I'm pretty sure. Well anyhow, while trying to put sheets on his bed, he got into it with the fan which we have now nicknamed "Jaws". The fan tried to eat the bed sheets. Xuxa fought back valiently and then someone realized that they could actually kill the beast by unplugging it. It took a little longer than one would hope to come to this realization. This morning the fan looks a little like the Terminator near the end of the movie. Most of it´s skin is missing but it still works.

It´s noon and Xuxa is trying to figure out how he´s gonna get his game face back on by 1400 when the next party begins.

Samba was good last night. Canarios das Larangeiras were able to move back to Lapa and the rehearsal went much better. About half way through, a bunch of young guys from Badalo showed up and the samba started to cook. When Mestre Folia took over it got really hot. It´s just what you would expect, I bunch of 16 year-old kids who play their butts off and who are heavily steeped in funk as well as samba. Very, very funky. Hot tight breaks. Big fun.

About 3am some people in stage 3 infitrated the bateria so I we left.

For some cool samba de mesa check out the area of Lapa on the other side of the arches around where Rua do Riachuelo and Av Mem de Sa come togther. Xuxa is pretty sure he was there last night. Lots of old samba houses enjoying a resurgence of popularity. Almost every day there are two or three rodas starting around 8 or 9 PM. Be careful walking around that area late at night. There is a heavy drug scene just up the hill behind Asa Branca. Stay on the main streets. Take a taxi home. j

Saturday, January 28, 2006

smorgasbord of life

28jan 2006

It was either the hot dog, pronounced "awchee dawguee" with a total of 4 syllables or the little quail eggs. You haven´t lived fully until you spend 4 hours in a third world bathroom with alternating vomit and diarrhea, all the while being observed by a 150 (or more) pound Mastiff named Hector. Everytime I came up for air old Hector, with his fur coat about 4 sizes too big was just sitting there looking at me with two little strings of drool coming out of either side of his mouth. Way bummer.

Bamba the beer drinking dog was spotted the other day in Catete. He was hanging around a BBQ pit working the crowd.

Samba has been good and is getting serious. The directors all starting to look stressed. I still greatly prefer the Group A and below schools. The Grupo Especial schools are just a mob scene. In the bateria it's a bunch of the same players anyhow. The same guys I play with in Estacio also play in Salgueiro. I´m meeting new people all the time and it all began with blocos. The blocos are your entry point as a foreigner.

In another little slice of life and death, Hilda was walking along Rua das Larangeiras a couple of days ago when she heard a siren (not uncommon). Suddenly, a police car stopped right beside her and out came a big, big automatic weapon with a policeman attached. He was yelling "lay down!" at some kid with a pair of shorts, no shirt, no shoes. (The kid obviously had a gun hidden somewhere. Maybe in his armpit?) Anyhow, all Brazilians and repeat tourists here know that your chances of getting killed by a policeman shooting into the crowd are much higher than that of getting killed by a bandit. Everyone took off running and trying to get behind whatever. Anyhow, the kid was subdued and dragged off to jail and no one got shot ... yet.

Xuxa got here yesterday and the games have begun. Not to be deterred by a torrential downpour, he somehow talked us into walking over to the praca Sao Salvador to have a beer and a snack. Seemed easy enough until we had to cross the street. As you may remember, I'll had a little trouble with the whole crossing the street thing here. Anyhow, there we were. Not a car in site. We darted across the street in ankle deep water. I was being the rabbit. Clever. Quick. That´s when I saw the bus ... and the water, lots of it. The bus looked like a speed boat and it was headed our way. I yelled "Bus!! Make a run for it!!" and away we went, three wet gringos with umbrellas sprinting along a two foot sidewalk just ahead of a bus wake. Pretty exciting actually.

Anyhow we had some carne seca acebolada, fries and more than a few beers. By this time the rain had let up to the point where you could kind of see across the street and so we decided to head out for Badalo in Santa Teressa. We got to ST and promptly got lost. We wandered around for a few minutes without getting robbed and finally found the quadra. You should visit the Badalo quadra (I think the street is Paraiso and it's on the side of ST that is right next to the sambodromo). Very nice people and a kickass bateria headed up by Folia from Santa Marta. Good player and a good director. You see heavy players all over town with Badalo t-shirts on. Anyhow, we spent some time hanging with the president and decided to move Xuxa's party to the quadra because of the continuing threat of rain forcast for Sunday. It's perfect.

The bateria was cancelled due to the rain but samba broke out anyway. Some kids ranging in age from 13-21 lined up and were running through the breaks with Folia leaading/teaching. Some of those kids could play like crazy and all of them were having a great time. Playing a little samba on Saturday at 1AM. j

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Eminem and sewage

24jan 06

First, a tip: The little "springs" bubbling up out of the sidewalks are not springs. Step over them.

It seems that the sewage situation has gotten bad enough that it has finally made it into the public consciousness. Today in the paper there was a picture of a sewage pipe draining directly into the water on some beach nearby. It came from a condominium across the street. They build these giant buildings here and dump the sewage right into the closest body of water. On the news was a picture of several tons of dead fish killed by algae overgrowth from raw sewage. The good news is that the government has promised to run some tests and do some studies.

Also in today´s paper was an article about the canals of Fundao and Cunha. These are the two beauties seen/smelled by 100% of visitors to Rio as they go into town from the international airport. A study revealed that with $66 million American dollars they could dredge out all the sewer mud and clean the place up. Hell, the USA fired $30 million dollars worth of missles at Bagdad in 30 minutes trying to kill Saddam!! 66 million is nothing. Clean that "sh*t´" up, holmes!!

Eminem made the news today. The article started by quoting Jorge Bush as calling him "the greatest threat to our children since polio." The author of the article argued that that alone was enough to demand respect. Let me see. What do I fear worse; A foul mouthed punk from the streets of Detroit or a not very bright megalomaniac religious fanantic with nuclear weapons?

I guess I´ll take Polio.

Tonight starts the big push to our the last weekend. I know it´s only Tuesday but this is Rio and Carnaval. The Xuxa arrives Friday so it´s unlikely that I´ll have time to write during the weekend. I´ll take notes on his movements and send a report later. j

Sunday, January 22, 2006

psycho killer

22jan 06

I just realized that I don´t know how to spell "psycho". phsyco. pyshco. pschyo. I think I might have dyslexia or something.

Anyhow, there is a bird out back over the fence somewhere who seems to be singing the sound track from the shower scene in "Psycho". I´ve had it with him. He´ll have to be boiled and eaten before Xuxa arrives.

On the creative robbery front, the gangsters here in Rio have placed observers in the airport. They watch for dumb rich people to come out with a gold chain and a Rolex. They follow them and then pull them over and rob them. They just robbed a busload of 33 British horse race fans and made off the $200 K. The Brits descibed them as "truculent". Not to worry. They published a composite drawing in the paper. I think there are at least four guys in the bar next door who look exactly like the robber. I´m gonna just hang around and see which of them acts truculent and then I´ll call the cops.

Through my friend Jorge I found another cool samba hang last night. In the late 70s/early 80s there was a bloco in Catete called Embalo. They apparently got pretty good as they made it up to the Sapucai and were actually involved in it´s inaugeration. There is a move to put the bloco back together and we attended the first rehearsal last night. It was that perfect scene that I love. At the foot of the Santo Amaro morro, the whole neighborhood came out to play some samba, sing some songs and let the kids run wild. It was like a samba playground. The people were soooo nice. At one point I tried to sit down in this plastic chair and one of the locals wouldn´t let me saying that it was too weak and that some folks had fallen in it. He got a stiffer one for me. I´d never seen this guy in my life!! The fun went on till about 1AM when we had to stop so that the neighbors could sleep.

We went to Sapucai on Friday to see the technical rehearsals of Vila Isabel, Viradouro and Salgueiro. Remember what I said about these things getting a little too popular? Well, apparently on this particular night, there must have been a huge moron convention in town. Over to the side in the stands there are the usual little stairs commomly used for going up and down the stands to and from your seat. The moron convention arrived and decided, "Oh look!! There are all these great spots with no one in them. We´ll just stay here." This, of course, trapped about 400,000 people with full bladders in the stands. When you tried to go down the stairs, people got mad because you were bothering them. At that point my usual polite "Da Licenca" stopped being a request and became more of a warning shot. I meant to give them the option of either getting out of the way or being moved along in front of me as I exited. Either way, I was going out. Quite an experience. One I´ll skip in the future.

Aside from the morons in the stands, the rehearsal was really unbelieveable. I really mean that. These once simple run throughs to get used to parading and playing and finishing on time have turned into a competition. Sort of an opening round in the run up to Carnaval. All of the baterias where amazing. Tight and swinging with very cool breaks. All the schools are now developing these long phrases with call and responses from the various sections. This is the new evolution of the vocabulary. I predict that, in two years or so, two or three of the coolest ones will mainstream, that is, they will be known by everyone and can thus become part of the common vocabulary of sambistas everywhere, no matter what school they are from. That's my read on how it works.

In my opinion, Viradouro carried the day by a large margin. That bateria is hot, hot, hot and mestre Cica is the Webster´s Dictionary of the emerging vocabulary of samba. The dude is a heavyweight. Not only was the bateria smokin', they also put on a show with all the alas in colorful shirts, baianas in the big red skirts that twist back and forth, etc. They also had these 5 or 6 mostly nude women up on these 30 foot high quadraped poles riskng their lives and dancing away while swinging sparklers around. Quite a show.

Went to Monobloco the other night just to check it out. It´s different from my other experiece here in Rio. It is egalitarian in that there are people of all colors, sizes and sexes playing whatever instrument they want. Women on caixa for instance. On the other hand, it seems to be more of a school. I think it´s where rich mostly white guys can come and pay to learn how to play samba. You have to arrive in October, pay and attend all the rehearsals (they take role) in order to parade and play the shows. They rehearse in the Fundacao Progresso which is a very cool, old, huge building under the arches in Lapa. The building is so big and industrial looking that it remeinded me of Blade Runner or something. I had a dream about aliens invading in that same building that night in fact. (I still haven´t completely gotten over that octopus thing.) That's the good news. The bad news is that the acoustics in the place are horrid. The only way to hear the bateria is to be in it. Otherwise it´s a huge roar.

Anyhow, the music and breaks of Monobloco are interesting and well-rehearsed but it´s really not my taste. Too western for me.

I got an e-mail about 6 months ago from someone in England where a debate was raging about whether there is "clave" in Brazilain music. Of course there is. When the director looks at you and points his fingers in opposite directions and yells "Cruzou porra!!!" that pretty much means that there is indeed "clave" and that you don´t know where it is. j

Saturday, January 21, 2006

africans, bugs and parasites

21jan 06

I´ve really gotten behind on this whole thing as I have been sleeping eating or going to samba straight for about a week.

While I was at Bambas last week, Alex´s wife was telling the story of how her long time parasite friend who lived in her gall bladder had finally overstayed his welcome and had to be evicted. He didn´t go quietly as he took her gall bladder with him.

I haven´t thought much about parasites over the past 30 years but I´m guessing that she had shistosomiasis, a worm you get from fresh water and that can live comensally in your gall bladder for years. Chip has some books on his shelf and can check my facts on this.

Anyhow, the important thing is that this little encounter led to an epiphany. I love these little momnets of clarity that come only once in a great while. It was at this moment that I realized that, for me to like it, music must have 3 essential ingredients. Africans, bugs and parasites. Think about it. Where does the best music in latin America come from? Wherever there are Africans. There also happen to be pesky little problems like malaria, dengue, Chaga´s disease, and leprosy, just to name a few. Here in Brasil, if you get out of the "Bug Belt" as my friend Bercu calls it, the quality of the samba goes way down. Even in the USA most of our great music came from New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. At the battle of Vicksburg, yellow fever killed more people than war wounds. Bugs and Africans baby. That´s the ticket. No Africans, no bugs, no parasites.... skip it.

You never know what´s going to happen around here. The other day this German couple was telling me about their experience in climbing the rock of Gavea. This is a mountain west of town over which the sun sets every day. They described how they free climbed on cliffs 10 meters high without ropes and how delightful it was to reach the top where there was a bon fire and fireworks and airplanes flying by. They had a great tine.

As it turns out (as reported in the paper), there had been a simultaneous expedition mounted by some teenagers. They got lost in the dark and set off fireworks in a call for help. The fireworks set the mountain on fire and required fly overs by airplanes who were dumping stuff on the fire to put it out.

I guess everything depends on one's point of view. Life continues to be a game of inches.

I met the reining Rainha da Embaixada das Caricatas at Sao Clemente the other night. The embaixada is a hot dog stand in the terrerao, a big entertainment area beside the sambadrome during carnaval. All these cross dresser dudes, Xuxa's friends of course, are there selling hot dogs to raise money for their club. The sentinel feature of the whole thing is the fact that they are all in drag and have a big rubber hot dog stuck on their heads.

Anyhow, "Samule" as the queen is called was at Sao Clemente in all her glory. The girl can dance. She´s about my height, 6'3" more or less with about 6" heels on and bright yellow and black panty hose. Flowers all over the place. She looked a little like a bumble bee with his head stuck in a bouquet of flowers. All the little kids were following her around and I went over to introduce myself and say "hey" from Xuxa. Nice girl. Said she´d come to our party at the end of the month. The sort of odd thing is that, as I made my way back to the bateria, I noticed that the children had begun to follow me instead. ???

I have lots more to report but I have to go for a walk. j

Monday, January 16, 2006

Priests gone bad and more

16jan 06

Things are perking along here in sambaland. Not as wild as usual and I attribute this to the conspicuous absence of our friend Xuxa. Remember he´s the guy who threatened to use foam rubber in his drag costume a couple of years ago. Getting Xuxa wound up and listening to his one-liners makes for great copy. He´s the man with his finger on the pulse of Rio. The `X` factor as it were.

We miss you Xuxa Bob.

The Bambas do Catete met for the first time yesterday. It was just like we never left. Great group of people on the street corner playing samba. I cannot say enough about street corner culture here. People are out on the street playing, singing and dancing with friends instead of watching TV or something. Thank God most people here still don´t have a computer. The bateria was full of little kids playing and dancing instead of killing cops in a video game. Big fun. We´re definitely part of the neighborhood.

In a "bar da esquina" recently opened by our friend Lica, I met one of the directors of Cacique de Ramos. He invited me out any Sunday to the pagode they have. It´s where all the big name pagodeiros got started and honed their chops. Unfortunately, it´s at exactly the same time as Bombas. I´m here to play.

I will make an exeption tomorrow. I usually go to Estacio for the Tuesday technical rehearsal but, tomorrow Marcos Suzano and Durval Pereira are playing with Pife Moderno at the CCC downtown. I´ve never seen Suzano live. Durval is a bad, bad, bad dude on the zabumba. Pife Moderno is sort of like forro flute.

I started a zabumba class today with Durval at the Maracatu Brasil around the corner. Great class. If you´re ever here this time of year, check out the oficinas de verao. Cheap and great. They say that if you learn new hard stuff as you get older, it keeps you from getting Alzheimer's. I´m good to go cause, baby, that left hand bacalhao stuff is funky. Durval can force you to dance with only his left hand. The dude is bad.

The once very cool sambadrome rehearsals have been discovered in a big way. They now cause traffic jams all over the area. It's still worth it but you have to go early and just plan on staying for a while. Friday we´ll have Viradouro, Salgueiro and Vila Isabel. I'll be there.

Speaking of Viradouro, they had to move their usual Sunday street rehearsal. It seems that a group of idiot drug traffickers from the morro nearby had a problem with their colors. Red and white are a rival gang´s colors. What is up with that ? Savages.

In the news of the weird department, a Bahian priest refuses to lay low. Last week he made the news when it was found that he was giving mass in various costumes. Dressing like a woman, dressing like Iyamanja and others. Needless to say, "The Church" took a dim view of the whole thing and sent him on vacation to the interior of Bahia. Somehow he let it be known that he was being courted to come out in pictures in several magazines. One can only imagine which ones. He was seen in the paper today with a cute little skirt and some high heels.

Maybe if Jerry Falwell got himself some high heels and a little lipstick he would lighten up a little. Laugh a little Jerry. Jesus loves you.

Tonight is forro with Xaxados e Perdidos at Severyna. Nice little scene with great Forro Pe de Serra. Just 3 guys laying it down hard with acoustic instruments. j