The Salvador Declaration
The Golden Age of Books

66 Steps

The women in the Danneman cigar factory were wearing beautiful green dresses and turbans.  There were a dozen or so, lined up in two rows at their stations, some doing the initial rolling (using a sort of treadle machine), some working on the various finishing steps with small scissors or knives.  The room was warm -- Carolinha explained that you can't get good cigars out of an air-conditioned factory -- but it was big and airy and very clean.  The women seemed slightly amused and not at all flustered at being on display for the tourists who came through in groups of two or three or four.  At the end of the room was a display case full of cigars for sale, of course, but I wasn't tempted, having smoked my first cigarette in twenty-five years earlier in the day.

This was in Sao Felix (alas, I have no idea how to get the right accents on the Portugese words here in Typepad), our last stop on our daylong tour.   The Danneman factory has recently been renovated into a cultural and arts center, and we stopped for a coffee in a big open art gallery with some wonderful paintings, and as we made our way back to the van we passed a group of people, chairs arranged in a circle, listening to a young woman with an Alabama accent talking about the role of the historically black colleges in the development of higher education in the southern United States.

We were sleepy from lunch and we all (except the driver) dozed on the two hour drive back to Salvador.  The success of a tour is critically dependent on the guide, and we were extremely fortunate with Carolinha.  We'd signed up the day before, at the touristic booth in the exhibit hall, with a young man who spoke almost no English.  With the little French that he and Bruce shared, we were pretty sure that the tour would be just the three of us and that the guide spoke English.    And that it would be very relaxed.

By 8:35 the next morning, as Bruce and Lynn and I waited in the hotel lobby for someone who looked like they might be our guide, we were wondering if "relaxed" meant that we shouldn't count on them getting to our hotel on time, but then a stocky woman in her late forties, with short black hair and a bright smile, toddled up -- "Mr. Madge?" she said to Bruce (whose name was on the ticket).  When he nodded, she shook his hand and said, "I'm Carolinha," and apologized for being a little late.  The driver pulled up in a small van, and we were off.

Carolinha chattered on in a very casual, nonchalant manner, occasionally pointing things out as we left the city.  We never felt (we all agreed on this that evening as we sat by the pool, drinking caiprinhas and discussing the day) that we were on a scripted tour; Carolinha's manner was such that we felt as if we'd just been introduced to a bright and engaging local who had agreed to show us around and take us to some places that she thought we might find interesting.  It was, indeed, very relaxed and felt very spontaneous, even though we knew that we were getting the same tour that she gave several times a week.

She talked a little bit about herself -- about her mother, now 81, who still exercised obsessively and "ate lots of salads".  Carolinha herself liked meat (this came up because she had to call ahead to order our lunches), and didn't care much for exercising.  She regretted it only when she had to climb the 66 steps to her apartment in the city.  She'd bought the apartment for the view of the ocean, and she loved it, but there was no elevator and at the end of a long day, those 66 steps were a trial.

As we pulled into Santo Amaro she asked us if we knew of the singer Caetano Veloso.  "This is his hometown.  His mother still lives here, over there..." she pointed to a small yellow house as we passed.  "I don't go to visit her anymore, though..."  and she explained that there had been a mayor of Salvador some years ago who was really terrible.  He was finally voted out and left the city in disgrace.  But he moved to Santo Amaro and ran for mayor there and won, with significant assistance from Veloso's mother.  So Carolinha wouldn't go to see her anymore.

The market is open everyday in Santo Amaro, but this was Saturday so it was even busier than usual.  It was a warm, beautifully sunny day and we strolled through the stalls casually, as Carolinha stopped here and there to point out something.  At the stall of the tobacco vendor we saw big thick ropes of pressed and cured tobacco, and saw how the vendor shaved off just a bit, loosened the fibers in the palm of his hand, and quickly rolled a cigarette that he held out as a sample -- I had to try one.  (I was reasonably careful not to inhale much -- and it still left me rather light-headed for awhile).  We looked at everything the spice vendor had to offer, figuring out the English words and equivalents (Bruce was particularly good at this since he uses many of those spices in Indian cooking).    We saw the jars of dende oil -- palm oil -- used as the basis for most Bahian cooking.  There were huge baskets of fruits and vegetables everywhere, fish laid out and salted, unfamiliar cuts of meat hanging from hooks.  How I would have loved to spend a week there, just going to the market everyday to find new things to cook and prepare!

But there was more to see -- the little house off a dusty side road where a friend of Carolinha's made her own chocolate from the cacao trees in her backyard, the convent in Cachoeira that's been renovated into a bed and breakfast, and the very elegant lunch served on the beautiful patio of a farmhouse, high above the valley of the Paraguacu river that separates Cachoeira and Sao Felix.

When we finally got back to the hotel, we thanked (and tipped) Carolinha and the driver profusely.  Carolinha said she'd had a good time; she liked these small tours more than the larger groups where she had to work harder and often keep the commentary going in two languages.   Lynn said, "I'm sure you're eager to get home and get up those steps and relax."  Carolinha laughed.  She reminded us that she'd talked to her husband earlier in the day and he'd been sitting out in front of the house drinking a beer with his son.  "I'll go home and sit with them and have a couple of beers first.  Then I'll be ready for the 66 steps!"


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