Sand, Sea, and Salvador

One of my favorite conversation questions with people I meet is: “Qual é sua praia preferida?”  Or “What is your favorite beach?”  I never knew that there were so many different types of beaches until I came to Salvador.  The diversity of shore that lines this peninsula is astounding.  What is particularly amusing to me, however, is the way in which Bahians talk about and classify the different sections of shoreline, when to me, it’s really all one big long beach.  But just as each bairro has its own unique characteristics, so the look and feel of each piece of praia changes according to its location on the peninsula and the neighborhood that’s settled beside it.

The farther north you go, the more room you have to breathe in the air and spread out your conga in the sand without laying in someone else’s shadow.  These beaches, like Praia do Flamengo, or Itapuã, are still a feasible day trip away and are the preference of many Bahians that I talk to, who dislike the crowded beaches in the bay, describing Porto da Barra as “sempre cheia das pessoas” as they wrinkle up their noses and flap their hands like talking mouths.  While my introverted soul rejoices at the more “tranquilo” atmosphere of the northern  beaches outside the bay, I loved vibrant community feel of Praia de Boa Viagem which still hugs the curve of the bay in Ribeira, where the less “chic” Brasilians live, work, play, where funky blasts from bayside barracas (thatch-roofed seafood stands) and where young (and old!) men do flips off the crumbling stone dock.

While I have learned that every praia is unique, some things seem characteristic to any beach in Brasil: there’s always a soccer game played by buff guys whose butts are squeezed into skin-tight speedos, a paddle board game played by old, pot-bellied guys whose butts are also squeezed into the same skin-tight speedos, congas in the sand, kites in the sky, and of course, the beach vendors that hawk everything from picolés (popsicles), to caipirinhas, chilled água de coco (a coconut with a straw), and freshly fried cheese on a stick.
The infamous Porto da Barra.  I took this photo early in the morning, so the beach is still fairly empty.  Usually you can hardly walk through all the beach umbrellas and people sprawled on the sand.

The infamous Porto da Barra. I took this photo early in the morning, so the beach is still fairly empty. Usually you can hardly walk through all the beach umbrellas and people sprawled on the sand.

The view from Porto da Barra includes Ilha da Itaparica in the distance speckled with red barges and brightly colored fishing boats that sit close to the shore.  I took this shot during an aguathlon (running and swimming) that my friend Rebecca did.

The view from Porto da Barra includes Ilha da Itaparica in the distance speckled with red barges and brightly colored fishing boats that sit close to the shore. I took this shot during an aguathlon (running and swimming) that my friend Rebecca did.

Porto da Barra is about a 20-minute walk from my house--the closest beach.

Porto da Barra is about a 20-minute walk from my house–the closest beach.

A sand sculptor recovering some of his work after a storm.

A sand sculptor recovering some of his work after a storm.

Praia do Itapuã is much farther north outside of the bay.  You take the orla bus, which is all shoreline view as you wind your way up the peninsula.

Praia do Itapuã is much farther north outside of the bay. You take the orla bus, which is all shoreline view as you wind your way up the peninsula.

To the right of us, the peninsula and the city

To the right of us,  closer to the city

To the left, endless ocean shoreline

To the left, endless ocean shoreline

Fishing boats in Itapuã

Fishing boats in Itapuã

Farol de Itapuã

Farol de Itapuã

More lighthouse views.  There was a man fishing off the rocks

More lighthouse views. There was a man fishing off the rocks.

Silly shadow pictures

Silly shadow pictures

The sun began to set and we knew it was time to get home.  While I love the beaches farther to the north, it is safest to leave around 4 and not wait around until evening comes.

The sun began to set and we knew it was time to get home. While I love the beaches farther to the north, it is safest to leave around 4 and not wait around until evening comes.

Black and white view of Salvador

Black and white view of Salvador

Amanda being Amanda

Amanda being Amanda

Eu te amo meu Brasil!

Eu te amo meu Brasil!

Praia do Flamengo is the farthest beach to the north that can still be a day trip.  After church one Sunday (which is in the same direction), my friend Rebecca and I got back on the bus for what seemed like forever, until I didn't even recognize Salvador anymore.  There were actually houses instead of high-rises!  And quaint little communities of condominiums by the shore.

Praia do Flamengo is the farthest beach to the north that can still be a day trip. After church one Sunday (which is in the same direction), my friend Rebecca and I got back on the bus for what seemed like forever, until I didn’t even recognize Salvador anymore. There were actually houses instead of high-rises! And quaint little communities of condominiums by the shore.

There were a lot of tables in some areas, where most people were sitting and enjoying fish, clams, beer, and little, speckled hard-boiled bird eggs that are popular to eat on the beach.

There were a lot of tables in some areas, where most people were sitting and enjoying fish, clams, beer, and little, speckled hard-boiled bird eggs that are popular to eat on the beach.

Conga and Havaianas in the sand

Conga and Havaianas in the sand

The waves were a lot more rough because we were far from the protection of the bay.

The waves were a lot more rough because we were far from the protection of the bay.

Kites

Kites

Soccer and empty coconuts on the beach.  Often there's some dog going crazy trying to tear the coconut apart.

Soccer and empty coconuts on the beach. Often there’s some dog going crazy trying to tear the coconut apart.

Cute little boys.  There were a lot of families at this beach.

Cute little boys. There were a lot of families at this beach.

Walking along the beach, following the ruts of the picolé cart

Walking along the beach, following the ruts of the picolé cart

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Parabéns: Turning 21 in Brasil!

Wow, what a birthday week I’ve had!

On Monday, the day before my birthday, I decided to make brigadeiros for my students at Siloé, the Christian, non-governmental organization where I teach English classes with my friend Rebecca.  Determined to keep stirring until my arm fell off, I cooked the brigadeiros too long, and when I retreived them from the fridge, they were hard as a rock.  The classic sprinkles that usually adorn these doces were not going to stick.  Still I molded the stubborn substance into balls of taffy-texture, placing them in the regular mini-paper muffin cups.  After Aurea gave up after one attempt to take a bite, I fled to the store hours before my class to buy ready-made chocolate doce de leite to form into brigadeiros with sprinkles.

After the most rhythmic rendition of the happy birthday song in English, my students eagerly reached for what I claimed was “taffy de chocolate”, a typical American candy.  I explained that it works best if you suck on it for a while, and that it is very popular in the United States.  Much to my surprise, they loved them!  And even after I passed out the store-bought version, the taffy-like brigadeiros were clearly the preferred candy.  Rebecca, however, insisted that I tell them the truth, which I did, much to their amusement–but I assured them that taffy really was a thing in the United States!

On, Tuesday morning, September 10th, my actual day of birth, I made brigadeiros again for my American classmates in Portuguese class that afternoon, before running off to an early morning meeting with a Toni, my presentation partner in communication class.  Unfortunately, he didn’t show up, but at least I got hugs, kisses, and “parabéns” from my other student friends on campus.  Ironically, to stand someone up is called “dar bolo”, or to give cake, so I guess Toni “me deu bolo”, or gave me cake for my birthday. 🙂

After Portuguese class at UFBA, the Federal University, my friends surprised me with a miracle–a dark chocolate and maracuja ICE CREAM CAKE!!!  I didn’t even know ice-cream cake existed here.  It was Rebecca’s idea to help me celebrate with ice-cream, since I always say I’d choose that any day over cake.

On Saturday, Rebecca and I took the bus to Praia da Boa Viagem, which is in Cidade Baixa, and we met some of her African friends from Togo and Benin who are here learning Portuguese and in her class at the University.  Far away from the high-rise apartments in the center of the city, I loved the feel of the community, the music from the barracas on the beach, and the clear turquoise waters of the bay.  As I sat in the sand, I watched some boys as they flipped off of a stone dock, that edged out just far enough so that they landed in deeper water.  The clouds deceived me and I skimped on sunscreen, which is why in the following pictures my face looks like, as Aurea calls it, a “camarão”, or shrimp.

There were two little boys with the cutest smiles who enjoyed giving us a show of flips and cartwheels in the waves.

There were two little boys with the cutest smiles who enjoyed giving us a show of flips and cartwheels in the waves.

View of the peninsula of Salvador

View of the peninsula of Salvador

Saturday night, my host mom Aurea insisted that I invite everyone from the study abroad program to my house for a party.

A true Brazilian birthday party with both sweets and salgados.  Aurea's sister made the most delicious brigadeiros I've ever had and a huge cake.

A true Brazilian birthday party with both sweets and salgados. Aurea’s sister made the most delicious brigadeiros I’ve ever had and a huge cake.

Thanks Amanda for my first bottle of wine!

Thanks Amanda for my first bottle of wine! (And to my host mom Aurea for my dress!)

Rachel, Aurea, Me, and Amber.  Rachel made M&M cookies for me!  They were my first cookies in Brasil. :)

Rachel, Aurea, Me, and Amber. Rachel made M&M cookies for me! They were my first cookies in Brasil. 🙂

Rochelle, Rebecca, and Amanda

Rochelle, Rebecca, and Amanda

So at my party, I was telling a funny story in my usual animated way, and my host mom

Even my reticent host brother Junior and his girlfriend joined us for song and cake, and gave me a gift of delicious Brazilian chocolates!

Even my reticent host brother Junior and his girlfriend joined us for song and cake, and gave me a gift of delicious Brazilian chocolates!

walks in, saying “I see you’ve already starting drinking the wine!”  Everyone bursts out laughing, knowing that I hadn’t had even a drop of alcohol yet!

After one small sip of wine (and four of five brigadeiros), I was giddier than ever, as I was so excited to find a drink that I liked.  Everyone else said it tasted like grape juice, which is why it was so good. 🙂

Finally, Aurea turned out the lights and everyone started singing “Happy Birthday”, first in English, then Portuguese, which I thought was never going to end….and just when everyone stopped singing, my host mom Aurea began with some song of blessing, with Junior and his girlfriend joing in too.  At last, I took a deep breath and blew out the candle in the little plastic cup that my mom held beside the cake, so that no wax would drip on it.  With big bowls of pipoca (popcorn), we sat down and watched Aladdin on my friends laptop, with everyone narrating their own version of the story, as the volume was too low to hear anything other than the voice of Genie.

The lyrics to some of the Portuguese version is below:

Parabéns pra você
Nesta data querida
Muitas felicidades
Muitos anos de vida!

Chegou a hora de apagar a velinha
Vamos cantar aquela musiquinha
Parabéns pra você (clap 3 x’s fast during the “pra você” part)
Parabéns pra você (clap 3 x’s fast during the “pra você” part)
Pelo seu aniversário.

Que Deus lhe dê muita saúde e paz
E que os anjos digam amém
Parabéns pra você (clap 3 x’s fast during the “pra você” part)
Parabéns pra você (clap 3 x’s fast during the “pra você” part)
Pelo seu aniversário.

É pique! É pique! É pique, é pique, é pique!
(first two are slower, last three are fast, each with their own claps)
É hora! É hora! É hora, é hora, é hora!
(first two are slower, last three are fast, each with their own claps)
Rá-tim-bum! (slow, clap on each)
(Name of the birthday girl/boy) 3 times

Cartwheels and Capoeira

It’s a dance.  It’s a fight.  It’s a form of art.  Like everything else in Brazil, the unique cultural mixture that is capoeira is hard to pin down into any one category.   The cultural influence of capoeira in Brazil is seen even on the futebol field in the graceful movements of Brazilian jogadores and the litheness with which they execute bicycle kicks that sometimes result in goals.

Capoeira originated in the Kongo/Angola region of Africa where indigenous men practiced kicking games for sport.  When brought into captivity in Brazil, the Afro-Brazilian slaves continued to perform capoiera in rebellion against the white, Euro-Brazilian’s abolition, adding choreographic elements as well as music in order to disguise the fight as a dance.

“But the capoeiristas say that in life, as in capoeira, you have to keep doing the ginga, dancing between the blows” (Delgado & Muñoz, 1998, p. 90). 

An example of the ginga thanks to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ginga_de_dos.gif).

An example of the ginga thanks to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ginga_de_dos.gif).

The first thing that we learned in our capoeira class was the ginga–the characteristic walk of the capoeirista–a continually swaying side-to-side step, similar to the rhythm of swing in jazz.  The ginga is part of the “elements of choreography” that were introduced by the early Afro-Brazilian slaves to disguise the sport’s more violent nature.

In Bahia, the birthplace of capoiera in Brazil, the sport is widely accepted as cultural art form and embraced as part of the national identity, as it is practiced everywhere from the streets of Pelourinho, the classrooms of mestres, to the health clubs of the elite.

The capoiera school that we visited--located in Campo Grande, the center of the city--practiced Angolan-style capoeira.  This older, more traditional style differs from the Regional style of capoiera, which was created in Salvador by Mestre Bimba in the beginning of the 20th century and places greater emphasis on fighting technique and is faster-paced.  While Regional-style capoeiristas wear white-pants, the colors of capoeira Angola are yellow and black.

The capoiera school that we visited–located in Campo Grande, the center of the city–practiced Angolan-style capoeira. This older, more traditional style differs from the Regional style of capoiera, which was created in Salvador by Mestre Bimba in the beginning of the 20th century and places greater emphasis on fighting technique and is faster-paced. While Regional-style capoeiristas wear white-pants, the colors of capoeira Angola are yellow and black.

We then added a move where you bend down and almost tap the floor as you sway from side-to-side doing the ginga.

We then added a move where you bend down and almost tap the floor as you sway from side-to-side doing the ginga.

After doing some stretches, we began learning some of the basic moves.  Here we are practicing the swaying step of the ginga.

After doing some stretches, we began learning some of the basic moves. Here we are practicing the swaying step of the ginga.

We then added a move where you bend down and almost tap the floor as you sway from side-to-side doing the ginga.

We then added a move where you bend down and almost tap the floor as you sway from side-to-side doing the ginga.

After doing some stretches, we began learning some of the basic moves.  Here we are adding a kick in middle of the ginga (side-to-side swaying step).

Here we are adding a kick in middle of the ginga.

A defensive move.  I felt like a lot of capoeira, especially for beginners, is learning to move defensively. You are constantly guarding your body.

A defensive move. I felt like a lot of capoeira, especially for beginners, is learning to move defensively. You are constantly guarding your body.

We paired up and practiced a kind of crab-walk around each other across the room.

We paired up and practiced a kind of crab-walk around each other across the room.

Ha, here I am trying to hop across the room in the position of a push-up.  The mestre literally just bounced--straight as a plank on his hands and tip-toes--across the floor.  I am literally dying because it was pretty much impossible!

Ha, here I am trying to hop across the room in the position of a push-up. The mestre literally just bounced–straight as a plank on his hands and tip-toes–across the floor. I am literally dying because it was pretty much impossible!

After learning some of the basic moves, we formed a roda, which is the circle in which capoeira is played between two people, while the rest look on.

After learning some of the basic moves, we formed a roda, which is the circle in which capoeira is played between two people, while the rest look on.

The musicians, whose rhythms guide the movements of the players in the roda.  In Angolan-style capoeira, the bateria, or row of instruments, is composed of three berimbaus, single-stringed instruments with a wooden bow and hollow gourd, two pandeiros, or cymbals, one agogo, or bell, one atabaque, or hand drum, and one ganzá, or rattle.

The musicians, whose rhythms guide the movements of the players in the roda. In Angolan-style capoeira, the bateria, or row of instruments, is composed of three berimbaus, single-stringed instruments with a wooden bow and hollow gourd, two pandeiros, or cymbals, one agogo, or bell, one atabaque, or hand drum, and one ganzá, or rattle.

While the musicians play, the rest of the roda chants along to the music, answering the call of the lead musician/singer.

While the musicians play, the rest of the roda chants along to the music, answering the call of the lead musician/singer.

Finally, my turn came to play against one of the mestres.  Oh boy.  You begin by squatting opposite each other, clasping hands, and then simultaneously cartwheeling to begin the game.  My goal was just not to get kicked in the face.

Finally, my turn came to play against one of the mestres. Oh boy. You begin by squatting opposite each other, clasping hands, and then simultaneously cartwheeling to begin the game. My goal was just not to get kicked in the face.

I played pretty defensively--it was hard for me as a beginner to pick up on her cues of what she was going to do next.  Good capoeiristas move in sync with each other, completely cognizant of the other person's position even when their back is turned, instinctively ducking beneath a swinging leg at the last second.

I played pretty defensively–it was hard for me as a beginner to pick up on her cues of what she was going to do next. Good capoeiristas move in sync with each other, completely cognizant of the other person’s position even when their back is turned, instinctively ducking beneath a swinging leg at the last second.

When the mestre stood on her head, I wasn't quite sure what to do, so I attempted a kick at her face....apparently, I was supposed to go up and bow my head at that moment, signifying respect...whoops.

When the mestre stood on her head, I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I attempted a kick at her face….apparently, I was supposed to go up and bow my head at that moment, signifying respect…whoops.

Here are some of the instruments: (from left) ganzá, agogo, 2 pandeiros, and different styles of berimbaus.

Here are some of the instruments: (from left) ganzá, agogo, 2 pandeiros, and different styles of berimbaus.

“As embodied play and an enduring social practice, capoeira is testimony to the many creative and potentially liberating ways, even within the severest constraints of social inequality, in which people re-shape their bodies, themselves, and their relationships to the world and those around them.” (Wesolowksi, 2007, p. 363)

Street Life in Salvador

Journal entry: (02-07-13) One month ago…

“I feel very overstimulated right now.  Even just existing here in Salvador is overstimulating.  As I walked back home from Suco 24h (heaven is a bowl of açai at any hour), I couldn’t even pray or think.  It was all I could do to just be aware of my surroundings, as I was walking alone, and just take it all in.  Salvador is a big city.  A huge city.  Think New York City, but Latin American-style.  But there are all apartments instead of houses, mountains of favelas in place of ghettos, and Dr. Seuss trees with vines reaching down toward winding highways.  Long-tailed, whiskered monkeys are the squirrels of Salvador.”  

I’m used to Detroit, where the streets are straight, the corners are sharp, and the biggest hill is the gentle incline of the highway ramp.  A map of Salvador, on the other hand, consists of a series of loops, where one winds the ondulating layout of the city by way of nearly ninety-degree-angled “ladeiras”, or steep roads, that link like ladders “Cidade Alta” and “Cidade Baixa” and the jumble of favelas in between.

When asking for directions, instead of hearing responses such as “take a left, then a right, and then another left”, the answer almost every time to any destination is simply “direto”, or “straight”.  You can only fully appreciate the irony of this word in Salvador after you have followed the bending road “direto”, and eventually, around several twists later, found yourself precisely at your desired destination.  Then you will know that in Salvador, no matter how many highways and by-ways there may be, choose almost any road, and it will be a “direto” route to your home.

(This post inspired another blog post in Portuguese for my class at the university.  Check it out here.)

Scaling the steep, stone-strewn streets of Pelourinho, the historical heart of Salvador

Scaling the steep, stone-strewn streets of Pelourinho, the historical heart of Salvador