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Brazzil - Culture - May 2004

Brazil Is the Main Dish Here

Di Tereza, a tiny restaurant in Bahia, Brazil, typifies neighborhood
culture in Salvador. Luiz, the place's owner, has become part of
the natural landscape as the sun at Flamengo beach. Here you
can meet and converse with locals of virtually every class of
society: slum children, businessmen, laborers, artists and students.

Phillip Wagner


Picture Visitors to Bahia, Brazil, find tranquility and entertainment among the many outdoor cafés, restaurants and bars, located in close proximity to Salvador's wonderful array of beaches. Praia do Flamengo (Flamengo beach), a popular location north of Salvador, not far from the airport, is a good example.

Within a two or three minute walk of the beach is a cozy outdoor shopping mall with a bread bakery, a small almost-deli / almost-grocery store, a florist, a pizzeria, an açaí fruit compote vendor, a video/DVD-rental store, an Internet café, a newsstand and one of my favorite outdoor restaurants: Di Tereza.

Di Tereza typifies neighborhood culture in Flamengo, which is similar to other nearby communities like Lauro de Freitas, Stella Mares, and Itapuã. It does so through owner, Luiz Carlos Martins de Oliveira, whose life and personality interestingly mirror the evolution and character of present-day Brazilian society.

Fifty-two year old Luiz has been married for 26 years and has three boys, ranging from 15 to 26 years of age. Nearly 30 percent of Brazil's population is 14 years and under, and most of the remainder have more the appearance of youth than age.

I was recently approached by an American expatriate who complained that "there are an incredible number of beautiful women in Brazil, but finding one over thirty isn't easy".

Brazil's demographic youth is consistent with the age of its democracy, which supplanted Brazilian military rule in March of 1985. Each exhibits a nervous vitality in which the fear and optimism of youth fade to the background when festivities are underway.

Young Socialist

Brazil's struggle to overthrow military rule, which began in 1964, was led by the political Left. Luiz acknowledges that he is a socialist and a fan of socialist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Lula played much the same role in Brazil that Solidarity labor organizer Lech Walesa played in Poland. As head of the steel workers union he marshaled the political will of Brazilian labor and inspired the population to rally behind them.

Lula is following in the footsteps of Walesa, who assumed the Polish Presidency in December of 1990 and served until 1995. But Walesa was awarded the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize and is widely regarded as a hero in the United States, whereas Lula is regarded by many with suspicion in the U.S. where socialism is often confused with communism.

For the record, Lula is not a communist, and neither is Luiz Oliveira. But communists played an undeniable role in Brazil's transformation from Military Republic to fledgling Confederated Republic and, ironically, free-market economy.

The father and an uncle of Luiz were communists in São Paulo, where his uncle was an editor for A Voz Operária, or Voice of the Workers Class. Both were arrested and Luiz's uncle spent six-months in prison. He would doubtless have suffered a harsher fate, but the government was unable to prove the connection between the clandestine publication and the defendant.

Touring Brazil

Luiz, in any case, was far more focused at that time on his love of music. He picked up a guitar at age six and began taking lessons a year later. While in high school he participated in a theatre group where he performed, played guitar and sang. Inspired by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other sixties rock groups Luiz and several friends formed a band called The Tigers, which was well received by fellow classmates.

The Tigers performed at school functions and, periodically, at private functions around the community where they were sometimes paid. Although apparently talented, it was their choice name that opened a door of opportunity for them.

Petroleum giant Exxon was about to unveil it's "Put a tiger in your tank" campaign in Brazil and was taken with the idea of putting a public face on the little high school band with the matching feline moniker.

The Tigers were signed to a contract with Exxon, which had them performing on the road all over Brazil for three years. Luiz was only about 16 when the contract took effect.

The band appeared, on average, three times per week in the early months of its contract with Exxon and they were still performing weekly when the contract expired. Luiz eventually completed high school but never attended university. But that didn't prevent him from carving out a career.

Passing Time

For 15 years Luiz sold technological instruments, most frequently for research and medical enterprises, throughout the country. It wasn't the most satisfying time of his life. But his extensive travels, both as a young band-member and as a salesman, exposed Luiz to the extraordinary diversity of regional Brazilian culture and music.

It also introduced him to his eventual home, Bahia. But although he liked Salvador it did not initially exert a pull on him. Like most Paulistas (people from São Paulo) it was Porto Seguro, Trancoso and other southern Bahia communities that drew him. He dreamed of owning a restaurant, bar or poIusada (bed and breakfast) in one of those places.

Turning 40 profoundly affected Luiz, who realized that he wasn't finding the happiness he had been seeking. Within the context of stable finances he sat down with his family, shared his feelings and considered alternatives. While looking for an opportunity more closely aligned with his dreams he accumulated capital and bided his time.

A Place to Meet

Luiz eventually relocated with his family to Salvador, and established Di Tereza. Now his presence in the community seems to be as inherently a part of the natural landscape as the sun, the sand, the palms and the water at Flamengo.

On Friday and Saturday nights Luiz books performances of regional bands, performing everything from bossa nova to classical Spanish Flamenco to Jazz to forró, a country-western/klezmer/polka like hybrid popular throughout the semi-arid interior are remarkably good. And, periodically, the talented Luiz is himself the featured performer.

I find myself returning frequently to the little Di Tereza oasis of local culture in the last days of this, my most recent, stay in Brazil. Here I encounter and converse with locals of virtually every class of society: faveladinhas (slum children) stopping to beg a treat, businessmen and women, maids, laborers, store clerks, lawyers, artists and students. I can't help but feel how little Brazilian culture can be understood in the absence of such close contact with Brazilian society.

For those traveling to Salvador, Bahia Di Tereza can be found in the small shopping center adjacent to the main Praia do Flamengo bus stop. The address: 1a Ponte - Final de Linha da Praia do Flamengo, ITA Center - Loja 11 - CEP 41.600-000. Tel: (71) 374-3252.

Phillip Wagner is a frequent contributor to Brazzil magazine. His current focus is preparing to pursue graduate studies at Indiana University in September of 2004, with a regional focus on Brazil. He has been in Brazil improving his Portuguese and working with social programs.
He is a volunteer Campaign Associate for Oakland, California based Nourish the New Brazil, which supports President Lula's national zero hunger initiative. He is also the volunteer Bahia Program Development Director for the Rio based Iko Poran volunteer placement organization and a member of the advisory board for the Didá project.
Phillip maintains an extensive website at http://www.iei.net/~pwagner/brazilhome.htm and can be reached at pwagner@iei.net.

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