Diary of The Travelling Seanchai :-

Rare Discoveries in Salvador

2007-12-05 to 2007-12-07

It is hot up here in almost every possible meaning of the word! The weather, food, music and women can all apply that prefix and so it is easy to see why I am loving this place! It really has given me a real flavour of Brazil now and would definitely be the first city I would visit again if I ever came back.

The only drawback, and it is a big one, is that there is a very real criminal element in the city and this was impressed on us by our hosts as the group from our hostel were getting ready to go out. Usually you get dressed up to go out but we got dressed down, leaving our wallets, cameras and watches behind in the hostel.

It was frustrating but I remembered a friend of mine telling me that they had put some choice Portuguese curse words on notes and left them in their back pockets, so sick that they were of being robbed. The satisfaction must have been great though to find that your notes were gone and your would be thief was running away with a message that was sure to leave him with no doubt as to what he could do with himself.

But it was a great night, a large street party with red being the colour of choice for most there. Everyone was dancing and hardly any were drinking! The street kids collecting beer cans for recycling therefore hovered around us gringos with intent, we were their gravy train! We were also given little ribbons which they would tie on to your wrist with three knots, one for each of your wishes and when it fell off naturally, your wishes would come true. Russell, who owns the hostel, had his for three months. Mine fell off after an hour and a half so I must be really lucky!!

I have mentioned already the amount of history associated with this city so I took myself off on a long walk to explore. I saw where the slaves had been brought ashore, where they had been whipped and the churches that they had built and looked to for solace. I visited one church whose interior had been furnished in a Baroque style, the truly breathtaking aspect of which was that it was almost entirely decorated in gold!

This wasn´t some small sacristy here, this was a big church and I stood agog as I tried to take it all in. It was phenomenal and I didn´t know where to look, so much was the grandeur of the place. But not even this was to prove to be, for me personally, my greatest find.

My guide book had made a scant reference at the end of a sculpture that was in one of the churches in Salvador. So I climbed up the beautiful cobbled stones street to the delapidated church on the hill. The old man at the door took my 2 Reals (US$1) and I entered. I had the building to myself and the first thing I came across was an unremarkable little church. I walked on, noting that if they didn´t tear this building down, it might very well fall down of it´s own accord.

According to my book, the sculpture of Jesus Christ was made in 1730 by Francisco Xavier das Chagas, a slave with no formal training. I walked past a room, dirty and dark save for a solitary bulb in the middle lighting up a glass case in the middle. I wandered in to take a look, confident that this ´sacred art treasure of Bahia´could hardly have been housed in such an inauspicious place.

But there it was, quite simply and personally, the finest sculpture I had ever seen (and I´ve seen David and the Venus di Milo) It was simply amazing, as much for it´s brilliance as for the uncomplimentary surroundings that it seemed to have found itself in. As I wiped the dust from the peeling roof off the display, I marvelled at this sculpture for nearly 30 mins, taking it in from every possible angle.

Again the book had said that it was ´set apart from other sculptures by its drops of blood, made from whale oil, ox blood, banana resin and 2000 rubies,´ but the sheer detail of the piece had not merited a mention. The piece had the reddish, bloody hue that you would have reasonably attributed to someone who had in fact been tortured, whipped and nailed to a cross. I left eventually but just as I was about to leave the building, I had to go back.

It really felt like I had stumbled on something truly rare and I said to the old man that it should be in a Paris, London or New York show room so that hundreds of thousands could enjoy it and not the lucky few that climbed the hill. He just smiled and made reference to the fact that 2 Reals will buy you a bottle of water or could pay for a phone call and so few came to see it.

And then I took back my previous thought. There should be some rewards for the travellers when they go out in the world and seek out these treasures, not everything can be brought back to the armchair enthusiasts!

The next day, I again set out to see the sights with my new roommate Reggie, a Brazilian with an infectious personality! He was invaluable as I got a local lady to sheer my head, the heat making my excessive hair unmanageable. She used her machine to cut off a large chunk of the hair from the back of my head in both a blade 2 and 3 and THEN asked me which level I would like! Well the boat has pretty much sailed if I had wanted a blade 3 I thought but I took the military style 2 blade with a smile!

Another beautiful sunset drinking from coconuts greeted us before a group of us went out to see a live performance with two bands. And this was yet another wonderful discovery! I had heard some samba-reggae, distinct from pure reggae, but another variation was Axé and this music was unreal!

It was in a large courtyard with no roof and the stage was set up in the middle. First up was Olodum, a band who have played with Michael Jackson and Paul Simon. They were really good, with their choreography and timing. But one of their former members had left them to set up Vixe Mainha and they were simply amazing!

I couldn´t resist the temptation to dance, really losing myself in the music. There was such an amazing vibe in the place which was catching as people looked left and right and smiled at each other. I have loaded a video to give you some idea of what it was like if you can view it.

There were two huge security guards behind us and when I asked them if I could take their picture, their frowns were enough to tell me no, even if their wagging fingers were emphasising the point!

I apologised and told them it was my first time in Brazil, that I hardly spoke any Portuguese, that I was Irish and that I was really loving Salvador. ´´Welcome,´´ they said non-commitally and I thought I detected the slightest hint of a smile!

I got talking to Nivia, a girl that had been dancing in the VIP section. I told her how much I loved this music and that even though I didn´t understand the words, my love of music and singing meant that I could still really appreciate it. The security guards were now full blown smiling at me as I talked to her and I seized on this moment of weakness and took some really funny photos with them!

Nivia knew Pierre´s (the singer) wife and asked if I would like to meet him after the performance. Of course I said yes and was whisked past security and spoke to him for a while via Nivia´s interpreting. She told him that I was a singer and he asked me for one of my CD´s! Hmmm, sorry, I was all out of them right now but if I get your address I can mail you one……!!

Seriously though, he was so kind and took time to talk to me, insisting on a photo of the two singers. I was given one of the VIP passes for the club that I was going on to next. I met my two security guards friends outside and they got me a cab and told the driver that there was to be no funny business (what that could have entailed I wasn´t sure I wanted to know) and from the size of them, I was sure that I was going to be safe.

When I got to the club they let me in but told me that I needed a passport to enter (for non nationals). I thought for a second and showed them the picture of me and Pierre whom they obviously recognised and they let me in, rather than upset one of this famous performers close ´friends!!´

Some more great music and dancing and Reggie and I got back around 4am. I´m a new convert to this music now and if you want to have a listen, here’s a sample. 

So just two days left in Salvador so I have to soak up as much of the local music and culture as I can. And to that effect I hope to meet Nivia tonight to see some small local band, lets hope she doesn´t tell them that I sing and they invite me up, my Portuguese really is a little rusty!!


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Some Fancy Footwork in Rio

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