The next day a small group of us goes for a bike ride — a bike ride in Salvador! It turns out there is a nature reserve on the northern edge of town — more or less a raw jungle — situated around a lake just inland from the sea; a 17km bike path circles it. It’s quiet and idyllic. There is a bike rental place at the park entrance, so we are all set. A few kilometers along the path we come upon a man selling fresh coco (coconut milk) from coconuts he probably gathered locally. I go off to pee and see this old guy with leathery skin, who has most of his possessions stashed a few meters away in the undergrowth.
As we suck on the coconut milk, up ride Margareth Menezes and her husband. I invited Margareth to join me in the early 90s on my Rei Momo tour. She sang backup and had two or three Bahian tunes that she did as part of the show, accompanied by my band. She was a ball of fire on stage and reportedly still is — you have to see her live. She was Queen of Carnival for some years, and her shows here are legendary. We haven’t seen one another for about 15 years — so it’s a lovely surprise to see her — and on a bicycle!
An older man, a childhood friend of Caetano’s from their little town of Santo Amaro, pedals along with us. He wears only a floppy hat, a pair of shorts and some flip-flops and his tan (he’s white) is deep deep brown. I’m told he’s a great guitarist — ah yes, I saw him on Marisa Monte’s tour a couple of years back. He continually gets offered studio gigs in Rio or elsewhere, or offers to tour, but says he hates travel, as “then I’d have to wear shoes.”
We head by car to Nossa Senor da Bomfim ("our father of the good end") church at the other end of town. It’s the first Friday of the month and therefore there will be a mass there tonight, but it seems like most people will be converging there because this particular Jesus is syncretized with Oxala, the cool white God of Candomblé. So, while it might appear that thousands are turning out for an early evening mass, they are really showing their respect for Oxala.
We arrive and the mass is still in progress. Thousands mill about and gather outside — almost all of them dressed in white — the color of Candomblé and especially of Oxala. Candomblé priests and priestesses gather outside, blessing the faithful with bunches of herbs, Baianas sell acarajé (fried bean cakes) and street vendors sell the famous ribbons that get tied around your wrist. I had a “reading” years ago by a Candomblé priest and a great artist named Mestre Didi when I was in town, and he said that Oxala was my saint — "the Orixa that 'rules' my head."
Tonight everyone claims that this is why I kept suggesting we come here, and also why, in retrospect, our visit went so smoothly. Some even claim that this explains why we didn’t hit a traffic jam arriving here.
We can’t get into the church yet to see the amazing room filled with ex-votos (votive offerings to a saint or divinity), so I head to a nearby religious articles shop to see if they have some for sale. They do. I buy a stomach and C buys a bunch of other body parts, all made of wax. The shop is lined with statues of Catholic saints, Candomblé beads and busts of Anastasia, the slave girl who stood her ground. A woman comes in and asks for a statue of Santa Barbara, but we all know that that is merely a stand in for Yansan, the Goddess who don’t take no shit. So, though it might vaguely look like a typical religious article shop, like many shops here this one serves multiple clienteles.
The mass is over and a procession carries Jesus around the outside of the church while everyone sings the Hino ao Senhor Do Bonfum Da Bahia, a hymn sung by Caetano featured somewhat ironically on the first Tropicalia record. We duck through the procession and head for the ex-voto room near the back. Body parts dangle like stalagmites from the ceiling and the walls are plastered with photos of the grateful who survived a disease or car crash.
Caetano says the church has tried to forbid attendees from wearing white — the implication being that by wearing white they’re blatantly here for Oxala and not Jesus — but I think if the church ever enforced that, attendance would be so skimpy that they’d be shamed into admitting the truth. Besides — the essence of syncretism isn’t either/or — it’s both/and.
Paulinha throws a party at the house in the evening. There is a room with rotating fans set up for dancing (I do) and 2 Baianas on a patio making acarajé and abara (the steamed rather than deep fried version of the bean cake). A bartender makes caipirinhas and batidas out of fresh maracuja (passion fruit).
Arto Lindsay is here with his wife. I haven’t seen him in years. He’s been in Salvador for a number of years, but now he’s moving to Rio as there will be more work there. Good to see him.
We leave around two and we hear that, at four AM, just as the party was winding down, Seu Jorge and Beth Carvalho (the singers) show up — both of them with their entourages. The bartenders rolled their eyes as if to say “now the party will start all over again.”