Just Merveilleux?

Life at № 42

A Map of The Time Before

You can’t understand The Time Before without understanding the dynamics. Slave Hill (Slave Miguel’s Hill, to be precise) was the town house. One day I’ll tell you how it got its name. This is where my paternal grandfather spent the most time because it was the most convenient for him to get to his office(s). It was also my favourite house. A mid-century affair built the same year as Brasilia, and in the same style. The ceiling in the living room was six metres tall, the floors were dark blue (Bahia) granite, and the house was, as the name implies, on a hill, perched on a cliff. Every room (except the kitchen, staff quarters and bathrooms) looked onto the ocean. It felt like being out at sea. There were only houses and green then, not a single high-rise.

The beach house was everyone else’s favourite. Jardim do Encantamento (The Enchanted Garden.) My grandparents built the house by the lighthouse with a surreal one acre garden. When things washed up on the beach, whale bones, pieces of boat wrecks, my grandmother would send people to go get them so they could be placed in the garden. Whale shoulder bones are shaped like giant fans. The ones from the spine are like propellers. There were also barrels and glass bottles, and huge glass containers filled with seashells. Everywhere you looked there was something strange, something strange and hibiscuses in every colour you could imagine. And hammocks tied to coconut trees. Wonderland. The cook there was Rosalia. She was tiny, four and a half feet tall, mother to ten children. Sometimes there were mosquitoes. It was Claudio’s job to close the bedroom blinds at sunset when mosquitoes were allegedly trying to get into the house. He also went from room to room (with a hand-pump insecticide spray) hunting for mosquitoes. My grandmother thought mosquito hunting was a perfectly reasonable task to give someone. The terraces went on forever. For a party you could easily seat 200 people.

Weekends were often in the countryside at Our Lady of Peace (Nossa Senhora da Paz), the fazenda. The house there was late 18th century. It still had the special paths for slaves not to walk too close to the house and although the pelourinho (whipping post) was taken down, a stump remained set in stone, near the tennis courts. Like many fazendas of the period the kitchen and dining room were separate from the main house. The cook there was Dona Rita. She was very old. Her grandparents had been slaves. Slavery was officially abolished in Brazil in 1888 (only 90 years before I was born),  many slaves remained at the ranches and plantations where they worked, because they had no alternative. This place is where I discovered and fell madly in love with horses. I can’t find pictures of the house, but after some difficulty I was able to find it on Google Earth and get a picture of the gate house at the entrance. When I was little a farm hand named Luis lived there and his wife opened and closed the gates when we arrived and left. The main house, known as the Casa Grande, is 2km in on the private road.

Other than these places there was Itaparica island, known simply as The Island. That’s where people summered. One normally got their on one’s own boat. Just private houses, no tourists. In the 80’s you could be walking on the beach and suddenly see Khashoggi or Queen Sylvia of Sweden. We had a sailboat named Brisa.

When I asked my grandmother why we had a sailboat and not a more comfortable big motor boat like my uncle (from my mother’s side of the family, the one who owned the bank and the local Coca-Cola factory) she told me it was because we weren’t vulgar. Boats with motors are for vulgar people. My French grandmother did not like my mother’s family. She referred to them as people from the merchant classes. This was entirely accurate. In the run up to the Spanish civil war they decided it might be a good idea to have a foothold in the Americas, so they formed a little family conglomerate. Construction, hotels, cattle, a cheese factory, olive oil and even funerary services. Every single one of those things named after themselves. They married into local society families, including two sets of banking families. My great-aunt Ana Maria was by far the most glamorous of the women. She was once engaged to Baby Pignatari (one of the heirs to the Matarazzo fortune and known as the last of the playboys.)

And that’s the background to The Time Before.

Interesting facts:

Salvador is the city with the highest black population in the world outside of Africa; but basically everything belongs to the white people.

When slaves arrived in Brazil, they generally arrived in Salvador and were sold at the Mercado Modelo (Model Market). Approximately four and a half million slaves were taken to Brazil. That’s 40% of all slaves taken to the Americas.

Related image

Mercado Modelo

Advertisements

25 comments on “A Map of The Time Before

  1. Carmen
    June 22, 2017

    Mr. M,
    I’m at work and ploughing my way through Gr. 9 Poetry Projects. Just took a break and read through your post. I was instantly transported to a place that I have only read about in works of fiction; it’s wonderful to be able to have your autobiographical account, accompanied by pics! Do you have a book in mind, perhaps? If so, you’re off to a great start!
    (I just want to reach out and give that enchanting child huggles )

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      June 22, 2017

      I might try to string something together at some point. For the sake of history more than anything else. It’s a world I think few people know existed 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Steve Ruis
    June 22, 2017

    Anthony Bourdain recently did an episode of his most recent series based in Bahia, Brazil, I believe. Beautiful country, beautiful people, wonderful food and essentially unknown to U.S. Americans.

    You have some lovely photos of your youth, which you have scanned (otherwise they wouldn’t be above to look at) but you haven’t “touched up.” The first photo of you as a boy has a reddish cast that doesn’t belong there, for example. Even the BW photos could be sharpened and cleaned up. Photo editors (I use Photoshop and a horde of specialized software) have come a long way and some are so simple that they just take a photo and offer you different versions to choose from or even “one click” cleanup.

    If you had been an ugly little boy in The Time Before, there would be no reason, but … gosh!

    Liked by 1 person

    • john zande
      June 22, 2017

      There’s a joke about Baiana’s:

      -“Mum! Have we got turtle reprellent?”
      -“Why, have you been bitten?”
      -“No, but he’s coming.”

      Liked by 2 people

    • The Pink Agendist
      June 22, 2017

      When I see it on television now I find it mostly unrecognisable. My childhood was in the dictatorship and immediate post dictatorship era. Only Brazilian made products. Only 3 tv channels (all stopped at 1am), appalling infra-structure and Belle Epoque levels of inequality.

      Like

  3. Steve Ruis
    June 22, 2017

    If you want to see true Belle Epoque levels of inequality, you have to go to the U.S. now. What is this world coming to?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Steve Ruis
    June 22, 2017

    Yeah, but a lot of people I know wouldn’t turn their noses up at a slower pace of life. “Okay, you damned turtles, get off of my lawn!” (Got the curmudgeon thing down!)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Esme upon the Cloud
    June 22, 2017

    A fascinating post Mr Pink, I really enjoyed reading this and would love to hear more. Oh to have seen that garden with all the bones and flowers and oddities washed up and out of the sea, it sounds magical.

    – Esme nodding and smiling upon the Cloud

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Pink Agendist
      June 22, 2017

      It was indeed magical. I didn’t realise then how much. In fact I thought it was all a bit odd 🙂 From what I understand it’s all still there, exactly as it was then.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Esme upon the Cloud
        June 22, 2017

        Still there. . .. Would you like to go back now and see it through the eyes of the adult you grew up to be, or prefer to leave the memories of the place as they are?

        – Esme being curious upon the Cloud

        Liked by 2 people

      • The Pink Agendist
        June 22, 2017

        I’m sticking with the memories. The last time I visited was 1999, and I knew it was the last time I’d ever see those people and those places 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Carmen
        June 22, 2017

        One thing about these stories, it gives some insight into the adult Mr. M.

        Liked by 3 people

      • The Pink Agendist
        June 22, 2017

        A mildly racist snob? 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  6. acflory
    June 23, 2017

    It’s odd how the brain works. I knew South American societies had slaves, but somehow I thought the local natives were the ones enslaved. Didn’t twig that African slaves would make up such a huge part of the population. Ignorance is embarassing, however the lifestyle you’re describing is tantalising, like a glimpse into the British Raj or an hour on the Titanic [before it sank, of course].

    I can see now where one side of your personality came from, but what caused you to rebel against that early conditioning?

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Pink Agendist
      June 23, 2017

      The proportion in that particular part of Brazil is higher than anywhere else in the Americas. That’s partly because the climate made it an exceptional location for agriculture. The temperature is basically always between 20 and 30 degrees and there’s substantial rainfall. That meant plantation after plantation after plantation. Sugar cane, tobacco, oranges, cocoa, coffee and cattle farms galore…

      No matter how much time went by, I never quite settled. I didn’t feel at home. I was foreign. Their culture was never my culture. Being sent to school in north america didn’t help. I was always much more at ease in Spain or in France and with European family members. To be at ease with life in that part of Brazil there’s a whole lot people have to be willing to live with or overlook/ignore. Poverty, violence, crime.

      Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        June 23, 2017

        I can understand the sense of ‘not belonging’. I didn’t feel as if I belonged in Australia until after I’d been back to Hungary and had to confront the reality vs the nostalgia of my parents. Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering why you felt /more/ at home in the European setting? Was it the people or was it the more aloof culture?

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        June 23, 2017

        There I stuck out like a sore thumb. Here and in Spain no one asks me where I’m from, everyone just presumes I’m from here.
        Until my teens I was only there for summer and Christmas vacations. That meant I had none of their references and vice versa. It was a bit like trying to interact with someone who doesn’t speak your language.

        Like

      • acflory
        June 23, 2017

        Ah, I see. Yes, that would definitely make you the outsider. In view of the person you actually became, wasn’t it lucky that life turned out the way it did? -grin-

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        June 23, 2017

        Yes 🙂
        I also didn’t see a way of reconciling that world and this world.

        Like

      • acflory
        June 24, 2017

        So we both made conscious choices. Interesting. 🙂

        Like

  7. Helen Devries
    June 23, 2017

    Was the kitchen separate to avoid fire risks? We had a house in France where theoriginal kitchen was across the courtyard from the main house for that reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      June 23, 2017

      I’m not sure. I always presumed it was to keep a strict separation of family and staff.

      Like

    • The Pink Agendist
      June 23, 2017

      Well, I’ve looked it up and they say the reasons were both practical and sociological. They didn’t want smoke, noise or smells in the main house and also wanted to limit contact with slaves, in particular male slaves who took care of provisioning.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on June 22, 2017 by in life, thinking aloud.
%d bloggers like this: