Bahia, Brasil - 24 de dezembro de 1999
In the narrow,
high-ceilinged room, the little beds leave a gap between the mattresses
even when we push the thick wooden frames together as hard as we can,
so we can lie only very close together or apart. Together, then apart.
The pale gray walls, unadorned but for a
faded poster of Bahia's "igrejas" - the old churches - and a mirror, are
beginning to glow dully in the morning light. A long shelf of dark wood
laminated with pink Formica, running behind the beds and widening into
night-tables on either side of them, has come loose from its upper moorings
and tilts, ready to fall. More panels of wood and pink Formica have been
tacked together to form a clothes cabinet (housing a little white cube
of a refrigerator), a stand for the small TV, and a round table. The seats
of the two side chairs are covered in olive-green leather-like material.
The room's single charm, that makes it worth the 78 reais, is the
big window on the bay.
Far below, beyond the rusted tin roof of
the Super Insinuante building- insinuating the abandoned ambitions of
its owners? - a circular stone fort rises from the blue waters. Three
hundred sixty years ago it failed to protect the Portuguese usurpers from
usurpation by the Dutch. Today small pleasure schooners rock gently at
their buoys around it. Other boats, working boats for fishing or commercial
sightseeing, some with much taller masts and some with no masts at all,
cluster at the piers of the inner harbor.
A few shouts, a loud conversation, light
but noisy traffic, sporadic hammering drift through the air on this Christmas
Eve morning in the high part of Salvador da Bahia de Todos Os Santos.
Low in the morning sky, the immense white
moon surprises me. The expanse of the bay is so great that even from this
window on the sexto andar of the Hotel Palacio perched on the cliff
behind the port, I had thought I was looking east, over the Atlantic Ocean.
But we're at the bottom of the bulge where the continent reaches out toward
Africa, and the bay curls up into the bulge from the south, and the old
city sits high on the eastern shore of the bay. As the sky lightens the
moon is growing paler, but with the immense dignity of its fullness and
It has been bigger and brighter these past
few nights than anyone living has ever seen it, and bigger and brighter
than I will ever see it again unless I live to be 111 - which I may. Perhaps
it is glowing with relief at the passing of a tumultuous millennium. Or
perhaps we should read it as a celestial flare, warning of trouble ahead.
Or imagine, in our narcissism, that it is coming closer for a better look
at what we're up to. Or, most likely of all, it is entirely indifferent
to us, unaware of our existence - Does it remember that once some of our
fellows set their boots on its surface? Did it even notice? - and is merely
riding the gravitational forces that have, coincidentally and briefly,
put it unusually close to both the sun and earth.
But if the moon is unaware of us, we can
hardly be unaware of it. What it does not remember, I cannot forget, the
night just past. The huge white moon heightens the glow of the white dresses
of the black Baianas dancing down the steep brick streets, it lights the
teeth of the drummers and makes moon-sparks on the trumpet waving in the
dance and on the lacquered horns of the prancing touro of papier-mâché.
It makes the shy, dark girls in bright-colored dresses and headcloths
emerge from their modesty as their souls meet Xangó and their bodies
shiver so that the many folds of cloth announce instead of hiding the
vaginal ecstasy. And the moon swells the love-glands of the men who watch
them, so that all of us fall desperately in love, now with each of the
dark whirling girls, now with all of them at once, and we make love to
them the only way we can, the only way the moon and the moment permit,
by dancing and whirling and stomping and laughing as the drums beat hard
and the trumpets sway and the sinuous river of multicolored lava flows
slowly, noisily down the street.