Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bahia Bounty

I've never been a fan of shopping as a travel activity. Generally, I'm quite allergic to shopping malls, department stores and the special hell that's called warehouse clubs. I don't experience any pleasure from wading through mounds of generic, mass produced merchandise and I despise it even more in another country. If it isn't distinctive and doesn't reflect the nuances of the culture, what's the point? You can probably buy it anywhere. Now an outdoor market, on the other hand, offers the sights and sounds of a particular country as well as the experience of bargaining and bartering. Once in the Dominican Republic, a vendor admired my husband's yellow polo shirt and he exchanged it for an ebony sculpture. Whenever I look at that sculpture, I remember the story of how we gained it.

In Bahia, the vibrant culture shines through everything, including the Mercado Modelo. From the capoeiristas chanting and kicking outside, to the smell of sea and moqueca wafting through the aisles, it was a totally Brazilian experience. The small paintings above reflect the orixas Xango and Oxum, deity of thunder and lightening and beauty and fresh water, respectively. I negotiated and haggled for 30 minutes to get them, they not only represent the importance of the candomble religion in Brazilian culture but also my perseverance!

I really like Oxum and her fly representation of femininity so when I saw this hand-painted shirt in an art gallery, I was thrilled. Then I discovered they didn't take credit cards and left disappointed, only to discover that Claudia, my candomble historian, surprised me with it at the end of my trip. I think of Bahia and Claudia whenever I wear it.

As you've probably noticed, candomble and its orixas play a significant role in Brazilian culture. References of this African based, syncretic religion pop up everywhere,from music to clothing. Brought from Africa over 350 years ago, forms of candomble have sprouted all over the African Diaspora. Ancient Yoruba deities were melded with catholic saints so that uprooted Africans could continue their spiritual practices in the face of persecution. The deities or orixas, all have corresponding saints, colors and days of the week. In candomble, Saint Joan of Arc becomes Oba, the fearless fighter, Saint Lazarus is Omulu, deity of healing and Saint Michael is Logun, deity of polarity.

Everywhere I went in Brazil, in restaurants, airports, shops and bookstores, I observed elements of candomble. T-shirts with images of all the orixas sell in boutiques and corner stores. Restaurants, key chains and bronze statues of Imenja, the mermaid deity of the ocean, appear wherever there is a body of water. Even the all-important soccer teams have their own orixas. Despite candomble being outlawed for much of the 20th century, the religion remains a visible part of Brazilian culture. I bought this t-shirt showcasing the 12 main orixas for my husband and I think of how entrenched they are in Brazilian culture every time he wears it.

These doll magnets represent Iansa, deity of the wind in pink and Nana, deity of swamps and unfathomable wisdom in purple. I snapped them up at Mercado Modelo where these cute magnets and key chains were piled into every stall. They both overlook my kitchen, peering out from my refrigerator, overshadowing all the other magnets.

I collect crystals and stones and I was immediately drawn to the vivid rose hue of this pink quartz. Brazil boasts lots of mines so precious and semi-precious stones sparkle everywhere. I bargained for this quartz at the mercado and now it sits on my desk, reminding me of Brazil's natural beauty. How do you feel about shopping while traveling and what kinds of souvenirs do you look for?


Amanda said...

These days, I love shopping for anything outside of Switzerland because (other than cheese and bread) it's usually less expensive as well as more stylish.

In general though, I don't really like trinkets but housewares, handmade jewelry, and textiles that are unique to a region or hail from a particular locale. Sometimes they are things I can get at home, but sometimes not.

Florence: leather and stationary. Lago di Garda region: linen tablecloths and ceramics. People still complement these things and are always disappointed that they can't get their hands on them when I say, I got them in Italy.

Rachel Cotterill said...

I'm not really a 'souveniers' person, but I buy clothes or jewellery if I find something that suits me. But in China we got a couple of table runners, a chopstick set, and two paintings!

A Cuban In London said...

Loved, loved, adored this post. First of all, it was about Bahia, the first place I would like to visit in Brazil if I ever go there, also Minas, don't ask me why. I am not attracted to Brasilia, or Sao Paulo or Rio. I could do those later. But Bahia calls to a part of me that I did not know it existed until I took up Afro-Cuban dance almost more than fifteen years ago.

That's the second reason why I liked your post. Oxum (Oshun or Ochun for us in Cuba) and Xango (Shango or Chango) are two of my favourite orishas. I love teaching their dances and performing Shango.

And the third reason? Your opening paragraph. You spoke my mind but much more eloquently than I could have put it. Like you, I CANNOT bear malls, or shopping centres. Give me an outdoor market, give me some authentic fair and you have a happy Cuban.

Beautiful and witty post. I can't wait for more updates of your Brazilian travels.

Greetings from London.

Fly Girl said...

Amanda, I like to look for jewelry as well. My prized Swiss souvenir is a watch with cows around the face and edelweiss on the strap. Textiles are also a great cultural representation.

Rachel, What kind of painting did you get ? I find Chinese art fascinating and have a few pieces.

Cubano, I knew that Shango was your favorite. He is one of Brazil's most popular male orixas and appears everywhere. Candomble is different from Santeria and Ifa so I was confused by a lot but I did witness some ritual dances. You would love Bahia, I imagine that it is very similar to Cuba with a corresponding history and culture. Cuban rhythms are very popular there as everywhere else and you have music and dancing everywhere.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It seems so hard to find souveniers of a country I have visited that could be deemed as tourist-type souveniers. I have a Russian hand made box, for example, though.

Mary and Sean said...

I don't like shopping in the states much, but in another country, it's fun and seems more meaningful. Like you, I enjoy having a story to go along with the item. Isn't it great how you can do trades in other countries for merchandise? I traded a bra once for a wooden sculpture! funny memory

Fly Girl said...

Jean-Luc, A handmade RUssian box sounds wonderful.

Mary, Now that's a story I want to hear!

Catherine said...

Well thank you so much for posting those Bahia pictures for me and loved the rest of the post. I am a sucker for markets overseas as well - probably from all the countries I have visited I usually bring back a pair of earrings and a piece of original artwork - usually a painting plus textiles. I am also not a verse to picking up quite a lot of pottery, baskets and boxes!! With my Mexican folk art collection growing by the minute I will need another house when I eventually return to London!!

Wendy said...

I really want to travel to Brazil. I'm with you on shopping malls etc. My head starts to spin. Love the treasures you brought back.

Ekua said...

I'm trying to get Christmas presents and I wish I had a cool market rather than all of the generic stores here! Now when I travel, I try to find gifts for birthdays and holidays, even if they're months away. BTW, you are making me very anxious to go to Bahia again!

Fly Girl said...

Catherine, I think you should keep a house in Mexixo and in London. That way you'd always have a gallery for your collection!

Wendy, thanks I'm sure you'll make it to Brazil sooner than you think. There's the Olympic photo ops you know!

Ekua, never want to make you anxious but no one can ever get enough of Bahia!

Beauty Is Diverse said...

Cute stuff, I like the items in the first picture.

Fly Girl said...

Tiffany, I think the paintings are my favorite as well, especially since I had to negotiate so hard for them.

shantiwallah said...

I just love your angle on this blog! Whether it's shopping, eating or going out, I just feel amazed at the beautiful things that go on in this world. It's like you're over there getting into all the cool stuff in your corner of the globe that I know little about, and I'm over here in Australasia doing something similar, and there are others yet, who are blogging away about somewhere else. It's just fascinating. We should have some kind of around the world in bartering, eating, and playing blog ring. And by the way, the "deity of swamps and unfathomable wisdom" has just about got to be the coolest woman I'd ever hope to meet!

Fly Girl said...

Shanti, thanks so much! That blog ring actually sounds like a great idea!

Lara Dunston said...

I found I came away from Bahia with lots of beautiful things too when I went years ago.

If I'm writing a book or story, obviously I have to shop for research, but I'm like you... I'm not necessarily a shopping (although I do do it well!), but if I'm drawn to a destination's shopping, I can go crazy!