Brazil – The Coasters
Brazil’s city of contrasts – topographically, historically, religiously…
Salvador, in the state of Bahia, is a Brazilian city full of highs and lows. Quite literally, at first blush, due to its topography. The historic center sits on a high plateau separated by a steep cliff from a lower section of town at the shore. Which makes parts of Salvador look like a city on top of a city, like something dreamed up by Escher or Christopher Nolan (see top photo).
The high and low of Salvador is also applicable to the extreme contrasts from street to street, section to section. You have streets of beautifully, colorfully restored old houses right next to dangerously run down roads your New York honed street smarts warn you against walking down (at least in 2012, when these pictures were taken); a business district of sleek office buildings next to old buildings in various states of disrepair; wealthy modern high rise apartment buildings conspicuously fortressed behind gates and private security details.
The high and low of Salvador is also present in its many famous and fascinating churches and their intractable relationship with Brazil’s history of slavery.
We’ll catch glimpses and word of all that, as well as Salvador’s lively beaches and famous municipal elevator.
But first we’ll stroll past some of the more picturesque corners of the Old City:
Mas Que Nada – Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
For our Brazilian musical selection, it is long past due that I share one of the most famous upbeat selections Brazil has gifted the world. You may not know the title “Mas Que Nada”, but you have surely heard this track’s lively chorus. Possibly no piece of music has been used more often as a shorthand to illustrate Brazilian high spirits.
And to honor our “high and low” theme, this high spirited take on “Mas Que Nada” will be followed later by a “low”, more earthy version later in this post.
By the way, “Mas Que Nada” is Brazilian Portuguese slang, literally translated as “but, that [is] nothing”), yet it has flexible meanings (“come on”, “no way”, “whatever”, or “yeah, right!”) depending on the context in which it is used in informal conversation.
The Elevator (Elevador Lacenda) connecting “high” and “low” Salvador.
View from within the Elevator.
There is also a tram connecting the two city levels.
Salvador is on a peninsula, surrounded by the ocean and beaches on three sides.
Two youths practicing Capoeira martial arts moves:
And just like on the beaches of Rio, sand sculptors work their craft.
All over Salvador you find vendors dressed in the traditional costume of the Baianas.
They sell tasty Afro-Brazilian dishes (quitutes).
Most Baianas, like the one here posing with Ed, dress in white in honor of Oxalá, the Supreme Divine Being in the Afro Brazilian religion of Candomblé.
The Church of Bon Fim:
The colorful plastic Fita do Senhor do Bonfim (English: tape of Lord of Bonfim) is a souvenir and popular amulet that can be found being sold by street vendors around the church. Thousands of Fita attached to the gates around the church waft dramatically with each wind gust.
The Church of Bon Fim has “been the site of pilgrimages for many years and is dearly beloved by the Bahian people. It is believed to have special curative properties, and those seeking divine intervention often leave replicas of body parts or photographs of the infirm inside the church.” (from the tourist plaque posted on the church)
The rooms with the body parts and photographs are just next to the nave.
Some of the photographs posted are rather graphic in their depiction of the malady for which divine intervention is desired, or for whose remedy thanks is being given.
The Church of St. Francis in the Old Town:
This 17th century church includes Masonic imagery, which got this church in hot water with Mother Rome. In the 18th century the building’s facade and its Masonic symbols were covered with white plaster. 200 years later, in the 20th century, the original facade was discovered and exposed again.
Like most Brazilian churches of its time it was designed with inside balconies. The upper class sat in the upper balconies, the middle class in the middle balcony, the lower classes in the pews.
“St. Francis would have a fit”, Ed said.
The church is rich with examples of blue Portuguese porcelain.
One of the most impressive displays of Portuguese porcelain we saw in Brazil is in the church’s courtyard:
The courtyard panels display moral aphorisms:
“Death Comes for Us All”:
Speaking of “Death”, the Church also boasts a rather imposing tomb in its cellar.
Time for the “low” version of Mas Que Nada:
Mas Que Nada – Luiz Henrique
The Church and Convent of St. Francis is right next door and connected to the Church of St. Francis. It is the most extravagantly opulent church in Salvador, perhaps even in all of Brazil. It really rocks the Baroque, so to speak.
Cherubs without penises.
There’s a story there…
Turns out this incredible church was built by slaves. Who were not even allowed to worship in it. So the slaves made some of the many statues look a little grotesque or pregnant…
The slaves also gave some of the cherubs large penises. which explains the subsequent “removal” of those cherubic superglands.
After hearing about how all this was built with slave labor, I got a little sickened by all the “splendor”…
So, as a corrective of sorts, lets visit the Ingreja NS do Rosario dos Pretos: The Church of the Rosario of the Blacks. This is the 18th century church that slaves and freed blacks built for themselves on donated land – they worked on it in their free time; it took almost 100 years.
The facade supposedly contains hidden elements of Candomblé – a blending of African religions with Catholicism. And even though this church was built by slaves and freed blacks for themselves, it still incorporates the tradition of including balconies for attendance of the upper classes.
Here too we find examples of Portuguese porcelain. I was struck by the suspicious expressions on the Holy Family’s faces as the Three Wise Men approach with their gifts:
Even the onlookers seem perturbed, and just look at those camels, who appear to be gossiping angrily.
To the left is the memorial to Zumbi das Palmares, the last king of Palmeras. Quilombo dos Palmares was a self-sustaining kingdom of escaped slaves , “a region perhaps the size of Portugal in the hinterland of Bahia”
Zumbi led a slave revolt against the Portuguese King in the 17th century and is credited with pioneering the first democratic institutions in Brazil.
Unfortunately Cerca do Macaco, Palmeras’ principal city, was destroyed and Zumbi eventually killed.
The Mercado Modelo is where slaves used to be “stored” in the basement. Now it is a bustling commercial mall. The history of slave culture still influences the arts and crafts offered.
If you like liquors you can find a wide assortment of interesting varieties on sale. Liquors made from the huge variety of Brazilian fruits, like guava, passionfruit, cashew, tamarindo; whole crabs in bottles of Cachaca; and these intriguing options pictured to the right: the “Pinga Gay” is made with strawberry. “Nabunda” translates as “Up the Butt”.
We still didn’t buy either.
Anyway, now that I’ve resorted to plying you with suggestively named Brazilian liquor to flog the high/low theme … how about we take this back to some quintessentially Salvadorian city views:
Finally, Salvador has a very active music scene. Including outdoor concerts. Almost every night we were there, some street party / music performance was widely attended somewhere in the Old Town.
These concert goers are gathered on the Escados do Carmo (Steps of the Carmo).
The Escados do Carmo during the day: