Showing posts from August, 2008

Understanding Samba

If you've heard of Brazil, you've heard of samba. Most people have glimpsed photos or scenes from Brazilian Carnaval, with sexy revelers festooned with a feather or two, writhing to samba rhythms. But what exactly, is samba? I always thought it was a music genre but I discovered that it's music, dance, and so much more, at Santo Amaro's House of Samba. Stepping into the terraced building that also holds a studio and performance space, before you can even get to the samba exhibits, the altars of seven saints loom. Like all African art forms, samba does not separate the spiritual from the mundane. The heavy percussion of samba beats derive from candomble music used for sacred ceremonies. Statues of Saints Lazarus, Joan, Barbara, Bonfim, Anthony, Roue, and the Portuguese twin Saints(! ) Cosme and Daniel, line the first wall of the Samba House. The corresponding colors for the candomble orishas or deities, adorn the background of each altar. The beads representing the or

Poetry Santo Amaro Style

The name Santo Amaro da Purificacao sounds like the title of a poem or novel and in a lot of ways, this quaint rural town on the Northern coast of Brazil reflects the very essence of poetry. Starting from the sun-baked streets and ice cream-colored buildings, this place screams with charm. The cobblestone roads are narrow and seem to be overflowing with people, animals and products for sale. The marketplace, which features an array of tropical fruits and vegetables as well as homemade hootch, is famous for its Bembe do Mercado Festival, which is the only candomble ceremony that takes place in an open setting. The sunflower yellow courthouse, with its cannons still aimed at intruders, is a national monument that commemorates Brazil's independence from Portugal in 1822. Perhaps Santo Amaro's ultimate claim to fame rests plainly in the middle of town. That's where you'll find the childhood home of the poet of Salvador, Brazilian musical icon Caetano Veloso . Caetano's

Bahia Style

Flaunting flawless skin, a vibrant spirit and colorful fashion sense, Brazilian women are famous for their beauty. On my recent trip to Northern and Southern regions of Brazil, I wasn't shocked to discover that Brazilian women mostly rock 3-4 inch stilettos in sand, over cobblestones and through airports. Nor was I amazed that most wear very little make-up and exude a natural beauty that's eternally kissed by the sun. What grabbed my attention was the realization that it wasn't the glammed up cariocas that strut down Copacabana and Ipanema who captured my memory. It was the baianas, the striking women from Bahia that wear traditional white dresses, fly headwraps and ritual beads, who really rule. Baianas represent the cultural symbol of the state of Bahia. Located in the Northern region of this huge country, Bahia is considered the cradle of Brazilian culture and Baianas personify it. Brazil claims the largest population of African descendents outside of Africa and Bahia is

Hangin' With Jorge

Brazil is a country that brims with culture. Everything from the food (spicy and heavy), the lifestyles,(laid-back) the music (high- spirited) and fashion (full of sexy flair), reflects a uniquely Brazilian perspective. As a writer, one of the rituals I have before traveling to a new country is to read some of its classic literature. Well, me and Portuguese don't get along so I didn't get a chance to find any good Brazilian books before I left. But when I arrived in Salvador, I discovered that Brazil loves the writer Jorge Amado like they love soccer. And that's a whole lot of love. Whenever I asked about Brazilian culture and customs, my guides kept telling me to read Jorge Amado. So I was excited to visit the Jorge Amado Foundation in Pelourinho. It's a museum dedicated to his 32 novels, memoirs and guidebooks. Jorge's books have been translated into 49 languages in 55 countries and all those translated books adorn the walls of the museum. His stories have also be

How To Avoid Creepy Experiences During Your Travels

I love adventure. I don't love creepy situations. Generally speaking, it pays to be open to new experiences except when you're freaked out. I learned the hard way that when your inner voice is telling you to beware, it's best to listen and forget about that great travel experience that you're passing up. On my last night in Brazil I stayed in a 400-year-old convent. Yes, it has been converted into a hotel but there's very little evidence of this. A huge crucifix carved from what looks like petrified wood looms in the lobby. Christ hangs from it with suffering and pain carefully etched into his face. The hallways and rooms are painted a stark, institution ,white. All of the floors creek. The key chain I was handed for my room looked like it was at least 100 years old. It was heavy brass and displayed the Carmelite symbol. No decorations mar the minimalistic and dark atmosphere except an oil painting of the last supper in the lobby. Compared to the rest of the place,