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Brazil Is the Main Dish Here

 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.
by: Phillip
Wagner

Brazzil
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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