It was on those days that I made a promise to myself to return soon to live in the land of sambas and magnificent lovers. When I’ll come back, I’ll spend time visiting the inland provinces and I want to reach the Amazon Forest. While there, I would like to fossick for emeralds which are plentiful in that part of Brazil and are the largest in the world.
I also want to get in touch with the real Brazilians, the ones that had created the myths of the sambas and who divine the cult of the Macamba, those folklorist celebrations full of African mystery.
It was during my last weeks in Rio that I had the opportunity to learn more about the Macamba powers. It was casual and unexpected.
During the weekend evenings, in Copacabana, on that pedestrian strip between the beach and the main road, there were hundreds of stalls selling crafts, characteristic of Brazil. This place was always crowded with locals and tourists who came from nearby districts, after the theatres and cinemas closed. The late evening was the best time for anybody to enjoy a stroll on the promenade with the fresh breeze coming from the Atlantic.
I always enjoyed my nocturnal wanders around Copacabana. There was so much to see and so much to indulge in, particularly in those evenings, wondering around the stalls searching through those simple art-and-crafts that certainly were well appreciated in such a distant place as Australia.
Well, it was there that I found the souvenir I wanted to take home with me, having the brio and the color of Brazil. Under a tent hung several paintings, representing the country and colors of Brazil in vivid reds, blues and greens. They were the dominating silhouetted figures of drummers, beating frantically on their tambourines, and dancers, exposing their glorious bodies covered only by tiny bikinis. The breasts of the dancers, well erected, pointed to the sky with the dark nipples flicked in silver and adorned with feathers. The vividness of the movements in the painting were evident, accentuated by the position of their bodies, and the tall plumed decoration on their heads. In them I could see the movement of life and I could smell the sweating of the bodies dancing in the villages, intoxicated with the sweet smell of the rum, mixed with the sultry sweat of dancers and drummers. I admired the southern constellations painted in the sky above, and I could read the mysticism of their Macambas. Yes, those dancers were representing the priestess propitiating the oncoming festivity, and inviting the other villagers into the dancing arena.
Those, who don’t know the Brazilian villages, could easily mistake them as African villages as seen in old drawings of explorers of the dark Africa of the past, and transported magically over these canvasses in front of me, representing life in this equatorial towns of Brazil.
My eyes were glued there as I kept looking at these vivid acrylics. It was so real. Looking at them I was part of that life, presented with ingenuity and realism. I could see the real Brazil, the one I’d like to discover one day when I’ll return to this country of contrast.
Then a young man, not quite thirty came to me. He was wearing conventional European clothes, but he looked like a character from the paintings that I was still admiring,
‘Are you the artist?’ I asked him.
‘Yes. What you see in these canvasses is my village and my people, and they represent the real life of the people of the bush.’
‘You speak English well. Where did you learn it?’
‘I spent nearly one year in Los Angeles, and I sold quite a few of my paintings there. But the United States is not my style of life. I ran away and returned to Brazil. Americans don’t know how to enjoy life. There, in the States, everything relates to money. They only think of how much they can buy with the dollars they have. They don’t know how to enjoy life with good women, good sambas, and good food. They are the unhappiest people in the word.’
‘I understand your point. There is much truth in what you say.’
‘Yes, people like me, the true Brazilians that live in the country are very poor, but we happily live our lives. I will never be capable of understanding the necessity of such luxuries of the American culture.’
‘Is your name Paulo? I can see all your works signed with that name. The life of your village springs out of your canvases. I would like to be able to visit and be part of that country life.’
‘Why don’t you come over for the next Carnavale? It’s only three months away. In my village you will breathe the real Brazilian life and you’ll be part of the genuine celebrations. Here in Rio, it is corrupted and arranged for the benefit of the many tourists that come from all around the world. But they bring good money to Brazil. If you wish to come, you can stay in my house. It’s modest, but my mother and my sisters will look after you. You will be part of my family.’
‘I will be back in Australia by then. But I’ll accept the invitation for the next time around. Before I go away, I want to buy some of your canvases to take back with me. Will you be here tomorrow evening?’
‘I have more paintings at home, and those are for my special clients. Why don’t you come over to my place tomorrow afternoon? We can talk of different things. I see you are basically a country person like us and you really love Brazil.’
He scribbled his Brazilian address on the back of one of his cards. The front of his card displayed a Los Angeles address.
‘It’s the address of the Gallery that sponsored me there. But come early in the afternoon. I think we can talk of many common interests’
The following afternoon a taxi took me to the address of Paulo Silvera. He was living in the outskirts of Botafoco, past the long tunnel going out from the coast of Copacabana. Paulo’s house was the most bizarre building that I’d ever come across in the many places I had previously visited. It was built with recycled and leftover materials of different natures, marble tiles, bricks, timbers and even steel beams. They were bizarrely set together and bonded in a way that only the imagination of the artist would have dreamed of, and Paulo had created in the construction of it such a masterpiece of art. I was surprised by his fertile imagination and artistic conception. It really was a merit of his capacities in seeing things.
I was welcomed as a friend inside the house. Again, I haven’t the words capable of describing my stupor of the way the building was conceived. Light entered at different angles across coloured glass, creating a mystic and unreal cathedral. I found myself inside a cabalistic place, where an occult religion was idolised.
In many ways I wasn’t wrong with my first impression. Paulo was living with a woman, but I wasn’t sure if they were married. I later came to know she was one of the Macamba priestesses. Her name was Isa Maranta. They were both from the same village lost in the immensity of the hinterland of Brazil.
Isa offered me a fresh green coconut and she masterly chopped the top off it, inserted a straw and gave the drink to me. It was a sweet refreshing juice.
It was an afternoon full of surprises and learning for me. During that afternoon I learned particularly about their religious beliefs, giving me more of an understanding of his artistic talents.
Unexpectedly Isa offered to initiate me into their Macamba divination.
‘Come to the Ipanema Beach, further down from Copacabana on New Year’s Eve. We are celebrating that occasion with some offerings on the altar carved in the rocks. You must wear white clothes and take a white rose with you to throw in the ocean.’
She extended her hand over my head; she closed her eyes and in a dialect that sounded African she said a prayer.
‘I have invoked our gods to protect you and to prepare you for your initiation into the Macamba. You are a privileged one. Very seldom is a European permitted to enter into our ceremonies. After that you will gain powers that normal people haven’t and you will see and feel things well before they happen. I’ll pray for you till that night comes.’
At the touch of Isa’s hands, I felt something like an electric shock entering me, and a shiver ran down my spine. It was only for a second, but from that moment, I had the sensation of being a different person. It was like somebody else had come to share some special events in my life.
Later that afternoon I again admired those special paintings that my friend Paulo had reserved for the connoisseurs. I selected the three best, which he gave to me at a bargain price. The women painted in them were in their own way beautiful, with so much grace and elegance in their flirtatious movements passing in front of the canvas in a parade of poetic nudity.
I told my hosts that I would see them again, with pleasure, at Ipanema Beach on New Years Eve. I felt that, on that special occasion of my initiation, many more revelations would be waiting for me.
* * *
End Part 4