Monday, January 26, 2009

Notes from Salvador . . .

We’re in Salvador until Tuesday. It’s hot and humid (near 90 every day), but we have a lovely air conditioned room complete with hammock and view overlooking the Bay of All Saints (locals call it the Bay of All Saints and Most Sins). I feel sinfully lazy, swinging in the hammock and reading Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands rich with details of life here in Salvador.

Salvador was the colonial capital of the Portuguese empire in the New World, and we are living just outside the Pelourinho, also called the “high city”. The district is filled with beautiful 17th and 18th Century Baroque buildings and churches, exotic Afro-Bahian music, and great Bahian restaurants -- and the legacy of slavery.

Today, we devoured a special dish called moqueca, a kind of shrimp and codfish stew, cooked right in a clay pot with a savory yellow sauce (trace of coconut, curry and maybe saffron with dende (palm) oil), and served with side dishes of toasted manioc, white rice, and pureed yam. The flavors linger in your mouth.

We also saw a terrific performance of the Bale Folclorico da Bahia, with dances of capoeira (originally a way of training slaves to fight, disguised as a dance with drums, sticks and swords), and dances featuring the gods of candomble (this Afro-Brasil religion), including Yemanje, the mermaid goddess or orixa.

As we walk down these cobblestoned, narrow streets, the culture of Africa mingled with Brazil is around us with many vibrant colors, street musicians, performers and dancers; and the music of drums, reggae, samba blasting from various loud speakers. I would love to bring some of the colorful folk paintings home.

This is not a rich country, and the people work very hard. Tourism is a new industry and much appreciated, but behind the glitter of the new are countless reminders to be careful. Salvador (and this neighborhood) can be dangerous, especially at night and away from the main streets. So we enjoy our daily walks, visit museums and churches, admire the tropical birds and flowers everywhere, grateful that we can see all of this with our own eyes. We hope for a better future for these warm and friendly people, and hope their unique and beautiful culture (recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage treasure) is preserved.

This week’s POP QUESTION: Can you name this yellow bird that is just one of many (including hummingbirds called beja-flor – kiss the flower) that visit the red tile roof near our breakfast verandah each morning? I promise a reward of some kind. Not sure what, but I’ll come up with something.

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