Dispatch Salvador: Loving Brazilians
PHOTO: The procession of life at Pelourinho. (Photo by David Cogswell)
God, how I admire those Brazilians!
Did I mention that Brazilians are active and fit? Well, I discovered today that not only are they active, they are also activist. Once again there was a great deal of activity in the park across the street from the Sheraton da Bahia. A big tractor trailer stage was pulled up next to the park. There was some music and speaking over the loudspeaker and I walked over to see what was going on.
With my primitive language skills I was like a 4-year-old child or a space alien wandering around not knowing what was being said. But gradually I figured out that it was a lively demonstration against the privatization of water.
“Somos feito de agua,” said a big banner on the truck: “We are made of water. It is a foundation of human life. Let us not privatize it!”
Hundreds, maybe thousands of beautiful, vibrant, enthusiastic and determined Brazilians were lined up in rows, many wearing matching tee shirts with the logo of the anti-privatization cause: XV Grito da Agua, the cry of water.
Soon after I figured out what was going on, the truck pulled out and the procession started moving. I walked away and resumed my earlier plans to walk up Av. Sete de Setembro to Pelourinho, the historic district. But two or three blocks up the street I crossed paths with the march, and there I was among them again.
I walked up the sidewalk of the commercial section of Av. Sete de Setembro as the demonstration proceeded through the street. There was a hot drum corps with young Brazilian drummers exuberantly pounding the rhythm of the march on bass drums, tom toms and timbales. I walked along with them a while, then eventually passed the demonstration and left it behind. It left me full of new admiration for the Brazilians, out there on the street fighting to keep water as a resource of the public, not the property of corporations. Hurray!
When I reached the historic section I found myself retracing steps taken with my guide Alfredo earlier. I found an outdoor café, had an espresso and watched the procession of life for a while.
After 5 p.m. I noticed the light was fading. There is no daylight saving time here and the sun wakes you up around 5 a.m. and sets early in the evening. Alfredo had said not to walk in the commercial section of Av. Sete de Setembro after dark. The stores close at the end of the workday and it becomes more or less deserted. It’s always better to stay in more populated areas at night in an unfamiliar city. The historic district was fine at night, he said, but best to take a taxi back to the hotel.
But I felt like walking so I headed back toward the neighborhood of the Sheraton da Bahia. It was just as Alfredo had told me. The area was closing up as I walked through. But it was still busy and densely populated with men, women and children. I never felt menaced or disturbed in any way. Before long I was back in my headquarters area. I found a café that had been recommended by both Alfredo and the Sheraton’s concierge, the Café Teatro, a coffee shop in a theater. I had a sandwich and a drink and then headed back to my haven on the 12th floor of the Sheraton.
There are many ways to immerse yourself in a culture. One might presume that being in one’s room at the Sheraton is hardly immersion in the local culture, but that is relative.
The hotel selected by Avanti Destinations, my destination manager for the trip, was perfect. The Sheraton da Bahia is on Av. Sete de Setembro, a major artery that leads to the historic section in one direction and down to the Barra beach section in the other. It is at the heart of many things in Salvador. With the Campo Grande right across the street and its many activities going on below my balcony I never felt isolated, unless I wanted to close the sliding glass door to the balcony and retreat.
I rarely turn on the television in hotels, but in this case I decided to check out Brazilian TV. It seemed to be another way of immersing oneself in the culture. I flipped through some things, a sterile-looking TV drama, news in Portuguese, a wrestling show, an American film badly dubbed in Portuguese, and then I stopped at a broadcast of women’s volleyball.
The game pitted teams from two Brazilian cities against each other. The team players on both sides were highly diverse, ranging from very dark to very light, but they all shared some of those national characteristics I am learning to love more every day.
They were energetic, determined, overflowing with team spirit and love of the game. It was a close match and they battled fiercely, but with great poise and mutual respect. Some of the plays were breathtaking. One nearly-impossible save practically lifted me off the bed.
In Brazil, sports are for everyone. They are not as specialized and set apart from the people as our professional sports have become in the U.S., where we are divided between the few professionals who play, and the rest who watch. People play soccer in fields and clearings everywhere. No special equipment is needed, just a ball. And people participate. People are very focused on their sports.
I switched around some more and came to a broadcast of the American show “The Voice” with Portuguese subtitles. It was a great way to learn some Portuguese. I also downloaded Google translate on my phone to help with language. If only I had six months here!
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