Chapter 19


1991-02-13, Salvador

"For I am God  --  and Satan too!
 Phoenix, Faust and Fool!
 My madness is Divine, and cool my sense!
 I am your Doom, Your Providence!"

      'A Messiah At The End Of Time'      Michael Moorcock

"Laila brings me food and whiskey twice a day, and the natives 
send me women. But they won't come into the hut ... for the same  
reason nobody else will, ..... so I have to sneak out at night and  
fuck them out there on the black rocks. We scream a lot, but ....... "

        'Songs Of The Doomed'     Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

I'm sitting in a restaurant, on the outdoor patio in Barra, the 'better' neighborhood of Salvador, under an oppresively hot sun. I have bloodshot eyes held open by truck jacks, weary limbs jumping with the energetic jerkiness that lack of sleep brings. I feel trashed.

I need sleep desperately. My body is weak, nauseous, and staggering to the point of collapse. It has been one week since all normal every-day activity ceased and I entered the realm of Chaos. Now my body is demanding surrender.

I've just finished the first meal in twenty-four hours.

Now a little satisfied, a little more settled after a night of alternatively lying on a hard wooden table outside the residence I've been paying for, and ringing bells and hammering the door of this same residence, encouraging the family within to join me in my despair.

All night listening to the pounding beat of Brazilian drums, the screams from desperate passers-by lost in some drug-, music- and violence-induced fog.

Each blaring horn jerking me out of an uneasy rest on a rock-like table, only to be reminded that what I craved, a soft bed in a quiet room, was mere feet away behind a barricaded entrance. With each rousing jolt I get up to pound and yell some more at those inconsiderate occupants within.

To quote an old maxim, "Misery loves company."

And in the morning being forcibly evicted by police after an energetic and vocal exchange with the Duena, or madam, of the casa.

The Duena, a middle-aged over-weight divorcee with too much make-up and a complexion like Vampira, had assured me a safe and secure home during Carnival. She and her decrepit mentally out-to-lunch gray-haired old mother emphasized that they knew all about the holiday, that I should enjoy myself fully, totally, just like all the rest of the Brazilians. Including her teen-age son.

I got sucked in by her wolf-like smile and too-white false dental work.

Then the scene with the Policia. Finally the door opens, after demands yelled by the constable. A raging war ensues as I am accused of everything from grand theft to torture, rape and mass murder. Taking a step toward my adversary I unloaded on her in Portuguese, Spanish and vulgar English. That made her cower!

The Gendarme was just reaching for his gun when I grabbed him, wrestled him down the hall to the room I had rented and showed him all my belongings, stored in her house, out of reach.

I demanded complete remuneration for what I had mistakenly paid for, a safe haven. I demanded her arrest immediately. The Brazilian Bitch!

Being asked to walk to the Police station, a mile up the road, I become insistent they provide transportation. These are heavy bags and I won't leave them in this den of thieves. The constable looks at me with apologetic eyes and whimpers that I must walk.

Lead-weighted bags on my back, I trudge slowly up-hill in the hot morning sun toward the station. It's a long difficult walk, and I already know what to expect when I get there.

A Brazilian jail is one experience that does not excite me. I'm the Foreigner! A quick decision rises like a lightening bolt from the pit of my anger within sight of the station as two officers are sauntering casually toward me.

Immediately transforming into a Ninja Jaguar Soldier for the Lord, hopping a cab, still time to bargain the fare, I escape, headed for the Bus Terminal.

It's there, on the edge of desperation, I call my girlfriend in California. Needing badly to hear a comforting voice.

Instead I receive news of my father's sudden delicate and perilous heart surgery after a valve collapses just days before. He is in intensive care. At least he's alive.

Perspective can be a very powerful agent for change!

Traversing Brazil

I cross the Columbian border at Leticia into Brazil. At Benjamin Constant, a small rain-drenched backwater port on the Amazon, I catch the Ciudade De Terezhina, a cargo freighter also loaded with passengers for a four-day journey down the Amazon.

The boat departs at 7 p.m., crowded with goods, food and people. Amidst the noise of a diesel which constantly runs day and night, hammoca space on the upper deck is all there is. It is crowded. This is a river bus. The sway of the boat constantly knocks hammoca-covered people against each other, like sardines in a tin, day and night.

The Amazon is wide, one and a half miles, shore to shore. With rain every day for two to four hours, the waters remain a mudlike brown. The riverside scenery sparkles in the sun, green foliage, huts, and slow canoes paddling goods to market or just fishing. Yet we are never close enough to the shore to see what's beyond all those trees.

Occasionally the boat slows as we approach a small river settlement to deliver or pick up goods. It's a short operation, always people crowded around the docks looking for goods or news.

Arriving in Manaus at midnight, we dock next to a Queen Elizibeth Class Russian Cruise Ship. I wonder what those tourists are paying? The next day I disembark for a quick view of this booming river port.

Smelly and hot, a mixture of old and new and jungle steam, Manaus is a free-port with lots of goods for sale. I leave quickly for Belem, another port city farther east then make my way to Recife on the East Coast.

Brazil is a big country, travel takes energy. Feeling pressure for time and wanting to be somewhere for rest, I head for Salvador, the coastal capital of Bahia, arriving just days before Carnival begins.

Bahian Welcome

Salvador appears more African than Brazilian. There is rhythm in the streets and a mixture of religions, costumes, foods, the beat of drums are constant, and steel instruments summon a discordant melody.

The music, like the movement, is of the streets. It's fast, can be found just about anywhere. Has a basic, instinctual feel, almost animal in the way the rhythm snatches my body.

Capoeria is in the streets. An African Martial Art, gymnastic in form, fought or danced to a rhythm and song. The fighters are like tall gymnasts somersaulting around a circle in rhythm to the music as they attack and parry one another.

I am robbed my first day in Salvador. In the American Express office, no less. Set up for the Grand Diversion, one distracts me while another lifts my pouch which contains travelers checks and a little cash.

I look around, the two are history. First time I've been lifted! An ill boding for this city. With a little work I replace most of what's lost.

Caught a taxi down to the the police station. Past a gravel driveway off the street behind a chain-link fence. A small stucco building, crumbling walls, broken windows. More like a cheap seaside hotel. Certainly does not inspire confidence.

I remember Medellin. Now there was Fort! Cement and sand barrels barricading each entrance. The Policia themselves armed with the latest heavy machinery for open warfare. All those Uzi's and grenades. Gave me a secure feeling!

Here the cops drive up in battered unmarked Volkswagen Beetles and Chevy Chevettes with busted windows and bullet holes through the doors. Congregating in the corridor of the station as they check in, not one in uniform. The Police in Salvador look suspiciously like thieves too.

The cops remove guns, knives and brass knuckles from their pants pockets, unharness shoulder holsters, remove weapons from their boots and shirts as they check out for the day.

The fat desk inspector with the Stay-Soft Fro looks at me bored. He does not want to take a report any more than I want to give one. It will be filed and forgotten.

Yet I need it for the money, and he pecks away on a rusted 25 -year-old typewriter, hands me a receipt, tells me to come back for the final document.

I don't.

Brazilian Orgies

Carnival is seven days of non-stop, uninhibited energy. Carnival is a Marathon. It is a Decathlon, an Iron-Man Tri-athlon. It is a Las Vegas World Class Prize Fight, New York New Years Eve, Super Bowl and Olympic Games all at the same time.

Carnival is a free-for-all, hedonistic orgy in the streets, where Lambada is culturally-sanctioned foreplay.

Rooms are difficult to find in Salvador during Carnival. A Brazilian reveler informs me while guzzling a beer, toking a joint and chomping on a hotdog, "Touristos go to Rio, Brazilians come to Salvador. This is where the action is!"

Each city has a different flavor. And the prices are high. Hotels, taxis, goods and services, everyone raises their prices for the celebration. I find a family home to stay at near the beach as many do, believing this is good deal. Little did I realize the perversity of a Brazilian psychopath!

Architecture is typical of modern South America. A mixture of high rise Condo and old wooden colonial European. Still it is a port town and as I have come to experience, has an eccentric flavor.

Most days it is too hot to walk around sightseeing. Besides, rest is mandatory, the beaches and ocean provide relief and nurturing water. I am waking up now between noon and 2 p.m. Coffee is difficult to find, juices aren't.

Besides, the day now begins well after nine in the evening. Sunrise signals time to crash.

Businesses begin boarding up windows, Chaining locks to entrances, blockading doorways days before. Signs, posters and flags all declaring messages for celebration and neighborhood groups which band together to party. The ever-present advertisements for Cerveza, here called Chubb, hang from the walls, overhang streets, are painted on anything still and immobile.

Streets are lined with vendors days before the official commencement. Wooden booths and ramshackle huts are lined in every park, appearing overnight, as if by magic. Most selling food and drink. Hotdogs, churassco, pizza, fried cheese sticks, fruit are available day and night.

Sidewalks are lined with cases, barricades, ice-chests, freezers, garbage cans, mountains of Beer. The ceremonial beverage.

Big African women, old grandmothers who belong to the Church of Bon Fim, dressed totally in white head-gear and long white flowing gowns sell adjoujou, a fried cornmeal type sandwich packed with vegetables and unshelled shrimp.

The night before its 'Official Beginning' is the real start of Carnival. People milling about in the streets. A loose undirected assembly weaves back and forth as more and more bodies become enmeshed in a finite space. Until the music starts.

Traffic must be re-routed, no cars can get through the crowds on the main drags. Neon floods and spotlights turn night into day.

Walking and observing the potential eruption I begin to feel surrounded. Suddenly, nowhere to move. Music, the driving force for this féte bursts from stalls, doorways and makeshift stages. Live or recorded. The later it gets, the more bodies jam into the thoroughfares.

Wanted to get a 'feel' for what the scene is, and now find myself right in the middle of a gathering storm. Pandemonium.

First night and the 'scene' is chaos. It descends quickly from there. Early on, expecting to move about with relative freedom, as the crowd swells to the thousands, the crushing bodies form a human river of lemmings and I am cornered like a rat.

The music turns up like the heat from a gas flame. Frenzied dancing, close and wet, I'm squeezed like an over-ripe mandarine. Water is running down my neck, my T-shirt is soaked. I need a beer, and I'm approaching a state of sensory overload.

Yet, this is just the start. The energy, the chaos, the madness and abandon continue to climb on an explosive rocket into galaxies beyond with each successive night. Carnival.

After the first evening 10 to 15 guys with casts and gauze-wrapped hands and forearms limp along the avenues. The second day, 30 to 40 bandaged casualties are evident. By the third, hundreds are jamming the streets hobbling on crutches, heads bandaged, arms in slings. All wearing their 'badges of courage' to advertise; They survived.

At night the kinetic energy in the crowds explodes at random. The heat, dancing, pushing, drinking, screaming madness all feed an invisible grenade with the pin pulled. Robbery and warfare are everywhere. Salvador is violent.

A young kid, barely fourteen rushes past, careening off all bodies inadvertently in his path. Chased by a group of ten grown men. Scampering under cars, cartwheeling around a beer-stand, knocking over two pedestrians. He's cornered by the side of a parked van, pulls a pistol and aims at the pursuers.

One of the men slaps the gun from the young thief's hands. Three more are on him before he can react. Tears and denials spring from terror-filled eyes, as his body is slammed onto the pavement. Carnival.

Meeting two gringas living in Brazil one night while taking a break at an outdoor Cafe, we all decide to spend the next few days together. That night we head for the 'Danger Zone'!

Barra is a relatively white suburb although the street scene is mixed. As you head toward Town Center, into Campo Grande and toward Pelorinho, the composition becomes darker.

These areas are primarily black, mostly African. In Barra people on the streets look at us like we're insane and warn us, the police shake their heads in a knowing way and warn us. Even in Campo Grande, as we ask directions from homesteaders, the neighbors excitedly warn us. " Don't take your White Ass into Pelorinho!"

The streets are notorious, infamous, even feared among the crazed Brazilians who are hip to the fast cut-throat action down on the Rio beaches. The three of us stick out like Mink Coats in Miami.

Men and Women in African Tribal Dress. Colorful, loud wrapped costumes, sarongs, barefoot. Each Tribe wears a unique assemblage. One group, the Men, dress in white, head to foot, draped in blue beaded necklaces and a white towel turban with blue borders wrapped around their heads. I expect the towel to read; 'Salvador Hilton'.

The crowds are more basic here, something closer to an animal consciousness. The music, primitive. My body feels charged with anticipation and fear. Electricity crackles down my arms and legs as my chest pumps to a rock'n'roll beat. This may be a suicidal move, yet it's where I want to be. Dangerous.

And maybe it is just that risk, or the belief among the revelers who live there that we are dangerously crazy that results in no confrontations and no problems. These Gringos are madder than we are! The revelers enthusiastically invite me to party!

The people open, if a little surprised to see a Honky among them. Stomping, moving, screaming to an African drum, a deep primal foot-stompin' rumble that shakes your pelvis and builds the waves of energy and motion louder, stronger, urgent to the point of eruption. Carnival.

Dancing In The Street

They are called Trios Electricos.

Great monster gargantuan trucks, rumbling slowly down and up the avenues. Neon painted sides in psychedelic swirls of greens, reds, purples and oranges - sponsor slogans and artistry mixed. The fronts and backs are walls of sound rising from the ground to touch the heavens. Speakers issuing the non-stop beat, coming from above. At the summit is a platform loaded with electronics, musical instruments, performers, thunder and lightning.

Each vehicle carries a special sound, a favorite group, and tens of thousands of followers, front and back and sides, all dancing to the beat in the street.

In Brazil, Rock'n'Roll is King. No matter if it is Western or Brazilian, Rock is Omnipotent. In the wealthy barrio, Barra, all the Trios Electricos are supporting rock groups camped at their summit.

A new trip, a new scene, a full Rock Happening with each new group. Each mile, a rolling Rock earthquake! Ten, twenty, maybe more of these Concert Halls on Wheels pulsing throughout Salvador, shaking the firmament, ripping the walls and lighting the sky.

Campo Grande and El Centro are another flavor. The music is African/Caribbean/Rastafarian/Eclectic. Drums and percussion, voice, African stick and string instruments, and brass.

Groups of dancers, all similarly robed, dancing barefoot in a synchronized unison of madness behind the Trios Electricos. Straw headgear and bangle-wrapped ankles pounding, sliding, weaving constantly.

Hanging out with the Rastafarian crowd, toking on a joint and drinking the waves of sound like an untamed horse through my body. Constant Reggae beat, Dreads careening in wild erratic waves, screams of 'JAH' piercing through the crowd. Feeling the energy and the spontaneous freedom for days I seek out the Rasta crowds.

Stomping, spinning euphoric for hours, caught in the Sea Of Mayhem. Carnival.

In a packed crowd, pushing, pulled, part of a tide, close, jarring, hot steamy. Dragged and hammered. The blasting African beat rolling over my body is getting louder. Can't move, might as well dance.

Moving the body, drums becoming limbs, steel strings plucking my spine, pelvis is all there is. Woman with red lips, short skirt, long dreaded hair, ankle bracelets on bare feet, atomic hips suddenly materializes from the well of urgency. Caught up in that net of sound, two objects thrown together.

We dance together like two predators after the same prey, two poles of a magnet irresistibly drawn. Music washing over me, then absorbed in abandon. Each movement, sensual, becomes seductive as the pull gets stronger. Then openly blatant.

Slower. The crowd recedes from sensory perception, a vestige of history.

Slower. The slink of her dress is all there is. Slower. Now body to body building in a wave coming from some far off storm, gathering steam, gathering force. Slower. The smell of her sweat drips down my throat and the feel of those insistent drums come through her like explosions of avalanches. Slower. Arms and legs becoming mixtures of molten lava pouring from an open volcano. Don't know where my pelvis ends, her fingers begin. Slower. The music starts to fade as flesh calls in urgent obsession. She takes my hands, moving them under her already wispy clothes. I'm in an other dimension and the only Reality is Body.

Suddenly, what could be seconds or centuries, the music shifts. The tumult that is a human meat grinder swells, sways. The crowd shifts. She is gone, I'm back with my friends. Disoriented. Got to dance. Got to keep moving.

In Salvador, SEX is spelled: Carnival.

Piss. Two days into this thing I begin to smell piss everywhere. Piss, vinegar and rotten eggs. The streets have become saturated with the sour odor. Every wall is open season for man and dog. As the days swim forward this smell becomes stronger.

Staggering home, tired and spent in the morning. The Sun is starting to climb, quickly heating up the atmosphere. Already evaporating liquids make the air a misty shade of yellow. Street cleaners are out removing debris from the evening's festivities. The gutters are filled with rivers of liquid. Crushed beer cans line the sidewalks spilling remains of last evenings indulgence.

It smells like piss. Carnival.

A million and a half people on the streets. Bodies become merged as waves in a sea of kinetic energy. A Sunomono, Tidal Wave out of control, driving and driven. The senses, all senses are bombarded as the Group Altered State emerges, coalesces, moves with mindless tension.

It's terrifying, exhausting, seductively beautiful, addictive and pure in the sense of no limit. It's a Dali Painting overlaid on an Escher Image.

Ten thousand roads to Enlightenment yet no escape from - Carnival.

Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman

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