Monthly Archives: January 2013

My new digs in Rio: Rocinha!!!

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The view across Rocinha, walking down from my house.

The view across Rocinha, walking down from my house.

I recently moved my accommodations from my friend Andrew’s floor to Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, nestled on the steep mountain sides around the great rain forest-covered monolith, Dos Irmãos. I came here because I had contacts with the Rocinha Surf School, which doubles as a mini community center for local kids.  Since the moment I arrived, I have LOVED IT.  It is one of the most vibrant and exciting places I have ever lived.  I don’t remember feeling this way about a neighborhood since living in Fort Green, Brooklyn.  Every time I step out of the door, I am surrounded by life- music, card games, business transactions, budding romances, arguments.  Because Brazilian people tend to be really friendly, I have many serendipitous conversations each day.

The whole neighborhood winds its way on twisting roads, and staircases, up a very steep mountain.  There ar

Walking down the mountain with my board

Walking down the mountain with my board

e very few official streets, just endless labyrinths of sidelanes, and walking paths.  You can’t feel hemmed in or too claustrophobic though, because every 20 meters or so, you are afforded a sweeping view of the valley and the majestic Dos Irmãos mountain.

The houses are so close that all our lives seem communally joined.  My bedroom window is about 6 feet away from my neighbor’s living room window, and their 9 year old son often leans out and chats with me from across the lane.  Another nextdoor neighbor plays samba music at extraordinary volumes at just about all hours of the day, and sings along in a beautiful husky voice.  At around

The Rocinha Surf School

The Rocinha Surf School

2:30 am on many nights, I am privy to a loud love conversation/argument conducted by an older man who comes and shouts at the window of his ex-girlfriend, who appears to be spurning him.   Ancient old rainforest remnant trees stand in the middle of impossibly small lanes, and every evening the sky fills with kites, flown by just about every little kid from every rooftop, corner, and balcony window.

One of my favorite people in Rocinha is Bocão, who founded the Rocinha Surf School.  He is the ultimate soul surfer, who has translated all the kindness, openness, patience, dedication, and high-spiritedness of his surfing soul into maintaining a beautiful community space for the neighborhood kids for the last 24 years.   He’s fixed up dozens of old beat up surf boards that people have donated, and basically keeps a free surfboard locker for all the kids of Rocinha who want to come by.  He also

At São Conrado beach

At São Conrado beach

organizes English classes, music classes, and other enrichment activities for the kids nearly every evening of the week and has regular surf lessons during the school year.

My favorite thing to do in Rocinha is head down to the beach with a gaggle of kids from the surf school.  The beach is only a 10 minute walk down the street, and on sunny days IT IS JUMPING!!  Other beaches in Rio are dominated by beautifully adorned and reclining women of leisure, or whole family’s sipping fresh coconut and playing beach tennis, or perfectly tanned volleyball teams.  Rocinha’s beach, São Conrado, is ruled entirely by kids.  They are everywhere – from 5 year olds to 19 year olds – boogie boarding, building sand castles, flinging themselves around in the breakers, body surfing, falling off long

Heading back from the beach, with Rocinha in the background

Heading back from the beach, with Rocinha in the background

boards, shredding on short boards.  The teenagers make out under beach umbrellas while the little kids bury each other in the sand.  I am impressed by how self-sufficient they are, in often very rough water, with little to no adult super vision.

I have been catching small waves in really crowded waters,  occasionally colliding with little kids flying out of nowhere on boogie boards.  My first day at the surf school, I rapped for the kids while one of them played a beat on a drum that was just lying around.  Afterwards, they took turns making their own verses about surfing at São Conrado, with two girls leading the charge.  Life in Rocinha is definitely off to a good start!

Rio De Janeiro, Oh but you are so beautiful!

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The view looking out from Santa Teresa towards the water

The view looking out from Santa Theresa towards the water

Rio DeJaneiro is a shockingly gorgeous city.  It sprawls across huge rainforest covered mountains, punctuated by towering rock edifices on the edge of crystal blue beaches.  The people are as beautiful as all the songs and stories say.  And the vibe is festive, relaxed, friendly, fun-loving, musical.

I had the great fortune of spending my first few days in Rio in one of the city’s most picturesque neighborhoods, Santa Theresa.  This neighborhood winds up a forested mountain on twisted cobblestone streets lined with vine entangled colonial houses.  For many years yellow street cars have been the favored form of transport.  On sunny afternoons, beautiful people line the sidewalks drinking

Sunday afternoon streetcorner in Santa Theresa

Sunday afternoon streetcorner in Santa Theresa

bear, chatting, and listening to music.  The view from my friend Andrew’s apartment looked out at a tree-covered valley and a hill on the otherside with the ocean off in the distance.  Every night, before I went to sleep, I would look out at the twinkling lights spread across the hillside, and feel like I was part of something bigger.

My favorite moment in Santa Teresa occurred when I was wandering through the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon and stumbled across a live samba band playing to a small neighborhood street party.  One of my favorite things about Brazil is the intergenerational

Recycled art on the hillside

Recycled art on the hillside

partying – everyone from babies to grannies loves to get down here – and this street party embodied it.  Here’s a video, that, while a bit sloppy (I was dancing while I shot it), gives you a feel.

 

 

 

 

A day in the old city to say goodbye to Salvador!

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At the famous Lacerda lift, which connects the “Cidade Alta,” or high city, with the “cidade baixa” or low city by the docks.

At the famous Lacerda lift, which connects the “Cidade Alta,” or high city, with the “cidade baixa” or low city by the docks.

One of my last days in Salvador I went to the older part of town, the incredibly beautiful  and historic Pelhourinho, and spent magic hour walking down cobble stone streets amidst pastel painted beautifully restored colonial houses.  I wandered in and out of art galleries and enjoyed the stunning views from the high city down to the water front.

As I was heading back towards evening, I heard the exhilarating sound of drumming– the super danceable and funky Bahian Samba Reggae style.  I rushed to follow the sound, and found not one, but quite a few drum batucada’s marching down different streets, starting up their rehearsals.   I was hurrying to follow one around the corner when I stumbled on something better – a drum batucada comprised entirely of

The picturesque Pelourinho

The picturesque Pelourinho

teenagers and children, nearly all of them girls.

I felt like I had discovered my greatest dream spread out before me – girls, uninhibited, confident, proud, fierce, strong, dancing down the sidewalk joyously, creating a big powerful contagiously grooving sound.  Nearly everyone walking down the street stopped to watch in admiration or dance. many of them dancing.  .  The girls were smiling at each other and showing off on the dance steps, with the younger girls working hard to keep up with the more experienced older ones.  In the front, the bright qeyes of the little ones were glued on their conductor, also a woman, who was playing them the cues for their parts.

The young drummers of Associação Educativa e Cultural Didá

The young drummers of Associação Educativa e Cultural Didá

My favorite part was when the conductor called upon members of the band one by one to play their solos.  She would point with her drum stick to a band member, then when the break in the music came – they would play their own little riff. One particularly energetic little girl kept jumping up and down, “me, me, me” she kept saying to the conductor, till finally it was her turn, and she executed her part perfectly.  Upon realizing her success she broke into a thrilled smile that could have lit up the whole state of Bahia.  The little ones went one by one, literally trembling with glee once they completed their parts.

As a girl drummer who has always operated in a very

Taking turns soloing

Taking turns soloing

male-dominated world, I was just so happy that other little girls in Salvador could grow up seeing this awesome girls batucada and know, without questioning or doubting or having to prove anyone wrong, that they could make their own powerful music and get a street full of people dancing.

Also during my day in the Pelourinho, I stumbled across a really cool drop in center, working with folks who are living on the street in this part of Salvador.  I met a young woman named Sheila who gave me a tour, during which I learned that she was a rapper too! Before I left, she shared some rhymes with me and we took this shot.

Also during my day in the Pelourinho, I stumbled across a really cool drop in center, working with folks who are living on the street in this part of Salvador. I met a young woman named Sheila who gave me a tour, during which I learned that she was a rapper too! Before I left, she shared some rhymes with me and we took this shot.

My first day surfing in Salvador, I made a friend Tharcisio, who was also a rapper.  He introduced me to his hip hop crew (which includes many amazing pop and lockers), and we all met up at the end of my busy day in Pelhourinho to attend a show.

My first day surfing in Salvador, I made a friend Tharcisio, who was also a rapper. He introduced me to his crew (which includes many amazing pop and lockers), and we all met up at the end of my busy day in Pelhourinho to attend a show.

Father and son hip hop duo!

Father and son hip hop duo!

Girls’ day at the beach!

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Less Corrupcao

The graffiti on the wall says, “Less corruption, More education.” And more surfing!
My favorite picture from my travels thus far!

One of my favorite days in Salvador was towards the end, when I went to the beach with two amazing women, Jazz and Adriana.

After one month surfing in Salvador, I still hadn’t met any other girl surfers.  This made me rather sad — I was told that this was partially due to the fact that the waves weren’t very good, and most of the girl surfers were down in Itacare where the waves are much better.  But still…

Jazz, who arrived from Oakland, CA the night before, and Adriana who lives down the road,

Heading to the beach with Jazz

Heading to the beach with Jazz

were willing to be my surfing companions on my last day in Salvador.  Jazz who is already a body surfer in California, braved the wild conditions and the steep shore break to try surfing on a stand up board.  As lu

With Adriana and Jazz.

With Adriana and Jazz.

ck would have it, we also met another Bahian surfer girl that day, Lorena, who was totally stoked to make our acquaintances.  Thanks to Adriana for taking some stellar pictures and video…

Heading towards our possibly ill-advised surf lesson. Jazz deserves a medal of honor.

Heading towards our possibly ill-advised surf lesson. Jazz deserves a medal of honor.

With Lorena, by Bahian surf sistah!

With Lorena, by Bahian surf sistah!

Candomblé

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After the Condomblé ceremony.

After the Condomblé ceremony.

Bahia is the part of Brazil where Afro-Brazilian culture is strongest. The Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé arose here and is still vibrant in everyday life. Candumblé is based on the worship of Orixás, or deities, mostly of the Yoruba tradition.  While living in Salvador, I often heard references to Iamanjá, the orixá of the sea, and it was nice to think of her every time I went surfing.

I had a very special opportunity to go to a Candomblé ceremony with friends from our neighborhood in Candeal.  During the ceremony, led by a Mãe de Santo, everyone sang songs for the different orixás and the Mãe de Santo became possessed with the spirits of each one. I couldn’t take pictures during the ceremony, but afterwards I was able to snap some shots of the beautiful room in which the ceremony was held, with the orixás painted on the walls.

Iemanjá, the orixá of the sea, portrayed in the gate of the Modern Art Museum in Salvador

Iemanjá, the orixá of the sea, portrayed in the gate of the Modern Art Museum in Salvador

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At the Museu Afro-Brasileiro in Salvador, I was able to see a magnificent set of wood panels of all the orixás carved by the artist Carybé, who spent most of his life in Bahia.

The beaches of Salvador

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Farol da Barra beach - Tiny waves, awesome people, beautiful lighthouse at the very end.

Farol da Barra beach – Tiny waves, awesome people, beautiful lighthouse at the very end.

In every new place I go, I have to figure out how to get to the beach.  My first day surfing in Salvador I hauled my board unto the very bouncy and rackety bus to end up at Farol da Barra, a gorgeous beach at the tip of the city, with a historic lighthouse at one end.

This was an urban beach, very different than the beaches of Floripa, which are often surrounded by mountains and sand dunes.   I also realized how spoilt I’d gotten in Floripa.  The beaches of Salvador, while beautiful, do not boast the best or biggest waves on your average day.  But I am learning about Brazilian beach culture, which is how the rest of non-surfing Brazilians enjoy their coastline — lounging by their umbrellas, eating fried fish and any of the assorted delicacies brought over by the passing vendors, and drinking fresh coconut water while working on their tans.  I’ve been trying it out and its not bad at all.

Jardim da Alah beach at sunset

Jardim da Alah beach, from the water, in late afternoon

Later I found what would be my favorite surfing beach, Jardim da Alah.  I met an awesome vendor of coconut water named Fabinho, who works on the sidewalk by the beach and kindly watched my stuff (a major issue when on a solo surf adventure).  After my session, I learned that he was a friend of many local surfers who all left their stuff with him and hung out afterwards drinking coconut water.  He taught me how to use a PVC pipe to pump out water, guerilla style, from a municipal source on the edge of the beach, so I could get a freshwater shower before I got back on the bus.  Thanks Fabinho!