Saturday, January 22, 2005

LIfe is good

22 Jan 2005

So much cool stuff has happaned that I really don´t know where to start. This may take more than one message.
One cool thing that keeps happening is lunch. It´s really the centerpiece of the day here. First you wake up late and wander around the house, in your underwear if you´re lucky, until someone gives you a cup of coffee. Once you are with it enough to be able to find your way back home, you head for a walk around the beach. After that, it´s time for lunch. Skip the restaurants and forget about eating on the beach except as a curiosity. Spot a worker and follow him to a Pe Sujo(any one of a million bars). Order the plate of the day and an ice cold beer. It´s like cheeseburger in paradise. Lunch for two with more than you can eat will run about $US 7. You have to find your own Pe Sujo because I won´t tell you where mine is. All you folks from Baja Canada might descend on the place and the next thing you know we´ll all be eating natural chicken, tofu and minced dove assholes with chipotle mangochutney. I just can´t let that happen.

Anyhow, the other cool thing that happens on a daily basis is just walking down the street. A lot of it involves Brazilian dogs. There are lots of them here and most are very well taken care of. I just saw a poodle getting his hair done in the window. He must have taken a fairly dim view of the situation as he was wearing a muzzle which made him look a little like Hannibal Lecter. These folks love their dogs.

Over the past few days the samba has been good. Thursday had Imperio Serrano and Vila Isabel in the Sapucai. They were good but they´re not going to win in my opinion.

Yesterday, after dropping by the local bar da esquina where we have been elected honorary members of the neighborhood, we headed out to my favorite scene which is the Bambas do Catete. This bloco is not famous which probably helps to keep it local. The bateria is all guys from other schools who live in the small favela behind Catete. This is a family scene. We´re watching the children grow up here. Everyone knows us. Last night was the disputa de samba final. There were 3 sambas and everyone was rooting for their favorite. There was all sorts of connfeti (I´m a really bad speller in 4 languages) and hopping around and singing. The composer who won lives in our neighborhood and is part of the turma at the local bar. He is taking me to the Morro of Dona Marta for the rehearsal of Furacao Azul on Sunday. I´ve been there before. It´s kind of a heavy place but the bateria is fantastic and alllocal.

This is the scene I like best here. Samba is at least partly about tribe and the schools made up mostly of folks from the hood are really fun. They´ve grown up together. I feel honored to be able to experience this.

Foods you should try if you´re coming here for the first time. Appologies to those of you who know this stuff.

Frango a passarihno, the perfect food; bife a milanesa, Brazilian chicken fried steak; acaraje, hush puppy on steroids; acai, (there should be a little dittzle on that c but I don´t know how to do it) a dark brown/maroon fruit from up toward the amazon served as sort of a smoothie; beer; agua de coco, ice cold coconut water served right out of the coconut with a straw. they then crack it open for you and you eat the meat; churrasquiho de gato, little chunks of meat grilled over an open flame on just about every street corner. the `´gato`` means `´cat`` so you might want to skip this one; same goes for the cachorro quente AKA hot dog vendors; any of the juices at the juice bars; costela a gaucho, ribs cooked slowly with watercress and potatoes, cheap and effective; apim which is mantioc root cooked many different ways, puree de apim, which gets Xuxa´s vote for the perfect food, is like mashed potatoes on steroids; Manchique restaurant in Copacabana. Churrasco and all you can eat buffetfor about $US 6; feijoada, pick your place as not all are good; did I mention beer?

Today there is chorro na feira, the local bloco ``Laranjada``, Amigos do Catete, Canarios das Larageiras and that´s just my schedule. Xuxa will likely be up in Sta Teresa at Carmelitas. Carnaval is heating up and several blocos are parading today. You just can´t do it all.
It´s time for lunch and then my nap.

Coming soon: Sex, soccer and samba; the bigthree. j

Thursday, January 20, 2005

lots of stuff

20 Jan 2005
It´s been a pretty cool two days here. A couple of days ago it was kind of foggy in the morning. There was fog on the mountains across Guanabara bay from the aterro. The ships were using their fog horns and the frigate birds had come ashore. Sailors say the these birds only come in when there is a storm at sea. They are all over the tropics. Their body is very small and thin with a straight tail. Their wings must represent about 75% of their body weight and are shaped like boomerangs. These babies can float all day. Add about 200 parrots in the coconut palms having a big confab and expo, no one other then me and the birds at the beach. Magic.

I´ve had a couple of firsts occur here. The first first was when I ate something that I shouldn´t have. My stomach rewarded me by making me throw up in the shower. Way bummer. If you ever get a chance do throw up in the shower, skip it.

The other first was last night when I was invited by Xuxa to go out with him and three other gay guys. One was reported to be such a flamer that his nickname is Petula. Needless to say, this sort of stuff makes great copy so I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, two of the guys didn´t show. We still had a great time at Salgueiro. This time of year, the samba is boiling hot. If a member of the bateria misses, he gets cut. The bateria was really cooking, big, tight,fast. I knew about 6 or 8 people and was able to walk along with the bateria. The rehearsal was outside the quadra in a soccer field with a track around the outside. I had my headphones on and my miniddisc in my hand so I think that security must have thought that I was some kind of journalist. I just walked along with different parts of the bateria for about 2 hours. Man you have to experience this!! Indescribable.
Luckily, the rehearsal ended early so we took off toward Sao Clemente. Unfortunately, these guys fell last year so they are now in grupo A. The bateria is, therefore, much smaller and not as impressive as it was last year. That is not to say that it is not good. I knew about 30% of the guys in the bateria and, as soon as they were done hugging me, they gave me a caixa and away we went. I played for about 30 minutes or so and then rotated to someone who had just showed up and had to play in order to keep his card. In fact, I gave my drum to a 10 year old kid who we have watched grow up here in the neighborhood. He´s playing tamborim in Salgueiro and caixa in Sao Clemente. He plays everything but is going to have to grow a little before he´s tall enough to get the surdo off the ground.

These guys play samba with one hand tied behind their backs. There was not one intact stick in the entire bateria. They were all just splinters held together by a samll amount of wood in the middle. It´s amazing how much sound they get out of these beat up drums and pieces of sticks.

The other funny thing that happened was yesterday in the local bar. As I was having a beer with my new friend Seu Juarez (77 years old) I noticed a calender from about 1997 on the wall. It had a picture of the Pope doing that`blessing thing that he does. In big red letters across the top it said, `´God Bless This Bar``. You gotta have priorities. I love this place!!

Hope to lay down some pandeiro tonight in the local roda de samba. Fui, j

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Nothing special

Yesterday was a quiet day. Monday around here is sort fo like Sunday. It´s the traditional day off for Brazilian musicians.

Early in the day we had a Xuxa siting so we invited him for lunch. Afterward we walked around the neighborhood looking at potential apartments to buy. There was a piece in the paper reporting that the CIA did a study of what to expect in the next 15 years. I´m sure that Shrub was not happy to hear that the old CIA thinks that in only 15 years, China and India will be the predominant world powers and the USA will be just another Eurpean style backwater trading mostly with Mexico. Further, Brazil is believed to be among the countries slated to rise to economic power. This means that our money is not going to return to it´s previous value in the long term and the real estate here is only going to become more expensive, unless of course, the Mogadeshu style gunfights and lawlessness of the favelas spreads to the whole city. Anyhow, seems like a good time to explore the real estate market.

Afterward, we went downtown where Xuxa put the hard bargaining on a music store for some surdos and accessories. I went next door to Casa Oliveira where, I´happy to report, they now sell those really cool tamborim baquetas with the tapered sticks and fat ends. Previously, these were only available if you got lucky enough to run into the maker at a samba school rehearsal. The design is very cool and leads to fat little ball at the end of the stick which is very light and really whips into the tamborim. Nice. A little pricey but worth it. Maybe Marko can figure out how to add this feature to his designs.

Afterward we went to the `´Sahara`` which is a huge street shopping area over around Rua Buenos Aires. I think that I´ve previously mentioned that they call street vendors `´camelos``. I think this is why they call this area the sahara. Lot snd lots of camelos. Lots and lots. You can buy everything here. Hang on to your wallet. In fact, leave it at home. Put your money in your sock or something. Anyhow, we went to several stores which specialize in carnaval stuff. They have ready-made costumes including the headress, shoulder pads, feather backdrop, bikini, etc. All you really need to go almost naked and look good doing it. Anyhow, we ordered a headress for our favorite Porta-Bandeira and it should arrive Thursday. Now we have to figure out how to get it home.

Finally got back to the neighborhood. We have been adopted as honorary members of the neighborhood family. We sat in the corner bar having drinks and snacks and.......talking, an art all but lost in America. Seu Juarez is an older guy who was once a banker but who has had literature as a life long passion. He loves Ernest Hemingway. Yesterday he quoted from the Raven by Poe in Portuguese. Very cool. His friend Manuel is an english teacher who specializes in Backgammon which they call `´Gammon``. Very big here. Anyhow, there were several people entering into the coversation and it went on for some time. Very pleasant and way way better than TV. The neighborhood bloco ``A Larajada`´ meets this Saturday.

I can´t believe that we only have 10 days left. j

Monday, January 17, 2005

acaraje and more

I forgot to talk about some really good news. On Saturdays there is an acaraje stand in our neighborhood. For those of you who don´t know, acaraje is the national food of Bahia. In Rio, it´s kind of hard to find. Think of it as a hush puppy on steroids. They are made of a massa made from black eyed peas and then deep fried in dende (palm oil). They are about the size of a big biscuit with the consistency of corn bread. They cut them open and stuff them with vatapa, caruru and dried shrimp. Add some hot pepper sauce and you got yourself a serious lunch. Throw in one of those waxy brazilian napkins and you´re gonna wear your lunch. The word for it is ``lambuzar``. That´s when you bite something and it explodes all over your face and you love it. Anyhow, I wound up with acarje in my eyebrows. Yum!!

The data are in and, once again, they are not pretty. All is not well in paradise and there is a big stink over the whole thing. It seems that the garota from Ipanema has grown up.....and out.....way out. The New York Times recently had the bad taste to publish a story and a photo of some hippos on the beach in Ipanema. They alleged that there is an obesity epidemic in Brazil. Of course this was just speculation until one of the London tabloids confirmed that the sale of plus sized bikinis is way up in Brazil. OOh... That hurts! I must say that I have noticed that many of the young girls are no longer painfully thin. They tend to have this sexy little pot belly sticking out. For us middle-aged guys who like our women built for comfort rather than speed, this is not such a bad thing.

We went to the E do Pandiero bloco yesterday evening and had a nice time. It´s in the Club Guanabara which is right on Botafogo Bay. This can lead to a stinky situation as the whole area is an open sewer. However, yesterday, there was a nice offshore breeze so there was no smell problem. The bloco is cool with about 30 pandeiros playing with two guitarists and a cavaco player. At one point, one guitarist was playing a very african-sounding ride over a coco song. Very cool. Sort of like the two roots meeting up again. Seu David da Portela showed up at the end and sang a few songs as well. Verynice. Small moon. Corcovado in the background. Beautiful.
I love this place. It has it´s flaws but it is way cool, way beautiful and full of variety. One of the things I like best about it is the abundance of small enterprise. We have over regulated and sued the initiative out of America but it is alive and well here. Every block is full of small businesses of every variety. In our neighborhood, a kid comes by with a bicycle loaded down with home made bread every morning. He honks a little bicycle horn and people go out and buy the bread. In Austin, he´d be taken directly to jail for making too much sense.
People buy and sell whatever they can where everthey can. It´s wonderful. j

Sunday, January 16, 2005

I'm not sure what happened

Man it´s been wild. Friday was pretty sedate until the Suzano class. He gave a review of all the stuff we had studied and then some. He was just spewing forth info and I was right in front with my MD recorder running. I looked at him a couple of times and asked him to do variations and he just cut loose. The guy is immensely cool not to speak of immensely talented. The class rocked except for that same fat moron of who won´t stop playing. I´m no professional but my avice to anyone as a musician is to learn when not to play. If you´re not adding, you´re subtracting.

At the end, everyone got a little certificate and Suzano signed my pandeiro ``To Jacare`´. He actually remembered my name. The dude is really friendly. Goes out of his way to make evryone feel good.

After Suzano´s class I went to Bambas and played till about 1 Am when the cops came. Not sure what that was all about.

Saturday was a beautiful day and the feira on our street was in full swing. Every type of fruit and vegetable you can imagine and then some. All fresh from the farm and cheap. The fruit tastes different here. It´s not perfect. Has some bug bites. Tastes heavenly.

After that, there was `´Choro na Feira`` which is widely held to be the best choro roda in Rio. It happens every Saturday afternoon under a big grove of trees at the end of General Glicerio near Rua das Larangeiras. Fantastic. I said before that samba is not spoken in Austin. The same is not true of Choro. ANy of the crying monkeys could have played in this roda. Our guys in Austin compare very favorably to the guys here. I think that the choro fans here would be very impressed. My advice to Russ and Sergio is that you guys try to turn the lodge meeting into a roda in some outdoor place for summer. I think it would catch on big time.
After that it was time to prepare for Sarurday night. I mostly just lazed around and read for awhile, took and shower and headed out for samba. Dropped by the Amigos in Flamengo and it was pretty lame. So lame in fact the director was glad to see me and hurt when I left to go to Bambas.

At bambas, I had one of those transcendant musical moments. There was this guy about my age from Beija Flor (he had to hug me of course), ALex, the monster from Estacio and Sao Clemente, a third surdo and me. 3 caixas, one third. It was so locked that it sounded like a drum machine but breathing. It went on and on. Fantastic!!!. The quality of the bateria is very high. For some reason, all these great players from the bigger schools live around there and come down to the corner for Saturday night entertainment is they don´t have to go to the quadra.

Anyhow, after that went to Canarios and rocked until about 3 AM. Being in the bateria was like sticking your head in a jet engine. Man was it loud. Last night there seemed to be a lot of drunks around so many folks were playing through the breaks. It gets really tribal with these little balls of guys all getting togther and urging each other on. They forget to look at the director and play through the break. Needlees to say, this close to carnaval, that draws attention you really don´t want to have. One old guy in the directoria, was somehow convinced that I was part of the problem. He came and stood in front of me and watched me play for about a minute. He then smiled and gave me the thumbs up. Guess he decided not to humiliate me. Anyhow, it was really loud and then the Rei Momo and his queen showed up. All hell broke loose as they presented the flag. Conga lines broke out ( a sure sign that there were some gringo tourists present). It got wild. We played for about 2 hours without stopping just going from one samba to another. John Wheat would have been in heaven. Things kept getting louder and wilder until I finally decided that I had had enough fun for one day.

Today we Have rehearsal of the bloco, E do Pandeiro in Botafogo.

Tomorrow I go to the Morro of Vidigal(scene of a recent big gunfight between the police and drug dealers) to visit Davi dos Santos. I saw this kid grow up in Austin and now he lives here, sratches out a living and plays music. Look for his recording on the Brazilian Groove CD by Putamayo records.

Fui, j