Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, September 2013
Where to start writing about this afternoon? So many impressions, so powerful, and yet almost from another reality. A film. A novel? No, I really saw it, lived it, I’m so glad I did, and then; I’m really not.
Down towards the sea. Claudio leading the way. Party atmosphere in the streets. Its Sunday, yesterday was independence day followed by protests and a minor riot, somewhere nearby there’s a gay pride parade.
We go down to the dual carriageway and cross over, dodging buses and cars. On the other side, a museum of modern art, which is closed. We take a left turn are beneath the road, following the concrete arches along. Soon they are covered in amazing graffiti. Paintings twenty feet high. Then one arch is occupied by a group of people having a meeting! Twenty sitting on plastic chairs in a circle. Claudio leads further on towards a little favela. One of the first houses we come to is an exhibition space for graffiti artists. A sweet young woman welcomes us and chats.
We move on into the settlement. Narrow uneven paths, little dwellings crowded together. We come to one with a bit of room in front of it, which has been turned into a tiny beer garden. Plastic chairs and tables, beer served from the window, food brought out the door. We drink beer sitting on a log bench outside the window. Inside the small room a TV is on, watched by a hugely fat black man lying on a bed. The place is busy, a nursing mother, men, women, children. A young pregnant woman comes past in an elegant short black dress and smart shoes.
Claudio chats to various people, we discuss music and he tries to get me exited about some ideas for social-artistic projects. We move on, meeting people as we go, briefly stopping at other little shops or bars, or admiring graffiti art. In the end we descent some steps down to the sea. There is no beach, the water is quite choppy and looks none too clean. I can’t imagine the favela having a sewage plant. Claudio is soon in the water, confidently swimming away from land. I’m a good swimmer, but have to admit I’m a little uncertain as I take off my shirt and flip flops, balance down the few remaining knobbly steps, and finally plunge into the warmish water. Claudio is heading out to a big empty moored row boat used for fishing. When I get there he is already sitting in it. I swim round the other side, thinking I’ll pull it over if I try to board the same side as he is. But it’s too high and I can’t get in. He comes over to my side making it lower and I manage, inelegantly, to heave myself in. We sit in the strange boat looking back across the water at the village sized shanty wedged onto the steep slope between the sea and the road. It s a fishing village really, in the middle of Salvador da Bahia, a city of 3 million. He tells me about a guy there who is nearly ninety and stilll swims out to his boat to fish. The biggest and most beautiful graffiti painting is in homage to this old man and carries his image.