Frequently Asked Questions
...and others less frequently asked!
Q: Who is the most famous foreigner to have "lived" in Bahia?
A: Robinson Crusoe. He was a plantation owner before setting
out from the Baia de Todos os Santos, shipwrecking, and washing
up on a desert island off the coast of Venezuela.
From Chapter 4, wherein...
He Settles in the Brasils as a Planter —
Makes Another Voyage and is Shipwrecked
had a very good Voyage to the Brasils, and arriv'd in the Bay de Todos los Santos , or All-Saints Bay, in
about Twenty-two Days after. And now I was once more deliver'd
from the most miserable of all Conditions of Life, and what to
do next with my self I was now to consider."
come then by the just Degrees, to the Particulars of this Part
of my Story; you may suppose, that having now lived almost four
Years in the Brasils, and beginning to thrive and prosper
very well upon my Plantation; I had not only learn'd the Language,
but had contracted Acquaintance and Friendship among my Fellow-Planters,
as well as among the Merchants at St. Salvadore, which was our
Port; and that in my Discourses among them, I had frequently given
them an Account of my two Voyages to the Coast of Guinea,
the manner of Trading with the Negroes there, and how
easy it was to purchase upon the Coast, for Trifles, such as Beads,
Toys, Knives, Scissars, Hatchets, bits of Glass, and the like;
not only Gold Dust, Guinea Grains, Elephants Teeth, &c.
but Negroes for the Service of the Brasils, in
Q: Who is the most famous foreigner to have visited Bahia?
A: Some might say it was Michael Jackson, who was here in 1996 to record They Don't Care About Us in Pelourinho with Olodum (Spike Lee was here together with Michael, directing the the video for Michael's song), Michael perhaps edging out Paul Simon, who was here in 1990 to record, also with Olodum. David Byrne has been here a number of times (he directed a documentary about bloco afro Ilê Aiyê), and I once saw Sting leaning on a building watching Filho de Gandhy turbans being stitched together on members' heads in front of the Gandhy headquarters where I'd just had mine done. (I didn't recognize him, his hair not being blond and spiky anymore. People were walking up to this guy and shaking his hand, and so I figured he was probably a famous novela (evening soap opera) actor from the south of Brazil. Curious, I went up to say hello too, asking if he was an actor, and the good fellow replied in Portuguese "Eu sou músico". Still in the dark, and not wanting to insult the gentleman by asking who the hell he was, I said simply "É um prazer em conhecé-lo!" (Pleasure to meet you!) and shook his hand. He was very nice about it, and it was only some time later that I saw a current photo online and realized who the mystery man had been.) Anyway...
Expanding our time frame considerably, and with all due respect to the gentlemen above and numerous others who I haven't mentioned (hello Quincy Jones?), I feel the honor must go to Charles Darwin, who landed in the Baía de Todos os Santos with the Beagle on February 28th, 1832.
Q: Is it safe to drink the water here?
- A: Not out of the tap it isn't. The water is treated with chlorine
(you can smell it) but its potability is unreliable. Everybody has a
water filter at home, and most people simply pour water from the tap
into the filter. More fastidious people first boil the water and then
filter it, and a lot of people buy their water in 20 liter bottles.
Bottled water for drinking can be bought cheaply everywhere.
- What is the voltage in Bahia?
- That depends on where in Bahia you are. In Salvador, Cachoeira,
Ilheus and Itabuna the voltage is 127. In Lençois, Praia
do Forte, Morro de São Paulo, Boipeba, Santo Amaro and Maracangalha the voltage is 220.
- Dorival Caymmi (Bahia's most celebrated composer, born 1914) was going to go there, with Anália or without! (Maracangalha
is a small community outside of the slightly larger community of São
Sebastião do Passé, which is close to Santo Amaro, which sits
just north of the Baia de Todos os Santos).
Eu vou pra Maracangalha eu vou
Eu vou de uniforme branco eu vou
Eu vou de chapéu de palha eu vou
Eu vou convidar Anália eu vou
Se Anália não quiser ir eu vou só
Eu vou só, eu vou só
Se Anália não quiser ir eu vou só
Eu vou só, eu vou só sem Anália mas eu vou
I'll go to Maracangalha, I'll go
I'll go dressed in white, I'll go
I'll go in a straw hat, I'll go
I'll invite Anália, I will
If Anália doesn't want to go, I'll go alone
I'll go alone, I'll go alone
I'll invite Anália, I will
If Anália doesn't want to go
I'll go alone, I'll go alone without Anália but I'll go
Q: Does Salvador have a theme song or hymn
A: As far as I'm
concerned it does...and that would be É
, a paean in ijexá by wonderful Gerônimo
and his writing partner Vevé Calazans.
(Oxum is the Yoruban divinity associated with sweet water, depicted
as aware of her considerable beauty and charms. "É
d'Oxum" would be "It's Oxum's".)
(Gerônimo & Vevé Calazans)
Nessa cidade todo mundo é d'Oxum
Homem, menino, menina, mulher
Toda a cidade irradia magia
Presente na água doce
Presente na água salgada
E toda a cidade brilha
In this city we are all Oxum's
Man, boy, girl, woman
The entire city radiates magic
Present in the sweet water
Present in the salt water
And the entire city shines
Seja tenente ou filho de pescador
Ou importante desembargador
Se der presente é tudo uma coisa só
A força que mora n'água
Não faz distinção de cor
E toda a cidade é d'Oxum
Whether lieutenent or a fisherman's son
Or an important judge
If a present is given we are all the same
The force that lives in the water
Doesn't doesn't distinguish between our colors
And the entire city is Oxum's...
city is hers...
Q: So the song above says "The force that lives in the water
doesn't doesn't distinguish between our colors..." Would
it be then that Brazil is truly a society of racial harmony, without
A: Unhappily not everyone here shares Oxum's sensibility (as expressed
by Gerônimo and Vevé Calazans); there is plenty of prejudice
here. But there is a way in which Brazil is way ahead of the United
States, and this is that the lower economic classes mix, mingle, marry,
and live side-by-side as if, surprise!, it were the most normal thing
in the world. And there are a lot of families whose roots are an impossibly
tangled mixture of African, Indian, and European bloodlines (and Arabic
and Jewish to boot). But the upper echelons of society tend to be of
European lineage, and there are carnival blocos in Salvador wherein
the obvious absence of darker skin is no accident.
- Q: Why do so many race-car drivers come from Brazil?
A: I don't know, but a large part of the population
drives like they think they are chasing glory at Hockenheim
or Indianapolis. So the watchword(s) are watch-your-everlovin'-ass-when-you're-crossin'-the-street,
baby! I've heard numerous times that Brazil has the highest accident
rate in the world, and I'm inclined to believe it. It really is necessary
to be careful if you or anybody you know values your life.
League 2004 Champion Tony Kanaan leads the pack at the Indianapolis 500.
Where's Tony from? Absolutely right! Salvador da Bahia!
Q: Is the weather summertime-great all year round?
A: A lot of people have that impression; I'm embarrassed to think
that I was one of them. And no, it isn't. There are seasonal variations.
It can even snow at higher elevations in the south of Brazil during
the winter. That doesn't happen in Salvador of course, but the winter
months (June, July, August) can be very rainy, and some days are out-and-out
jacket weather. In the interior these months feel like brisk autumn
in the United States and nights are often cold enough that heavy blankets
are brought out. But unless you plan to be on the beach every day, none
of this is bad. This is the season of São João (a big
festa which falls on the 24th of June) and forró (funky Brazilian
hillbilly music). Hey, this is Bahia! Did you think the partying was
going to stop? (And whatever the case, don't worry, there are still
plenty of decent beach days during this time of the year.)
- Q: Speaking of the weather, is the tropical Bahia sun really all that
much stronger than the European or North American summer sun?
- A: You bet your blisters it is! It's easy to think otherwise because
the seabreeze and lower humidity generally keep things fresh. But you've
got to remember that it's like having a nuclear reactor up there, and
if you don't remember it, you're going to fry. (You
can translate this to "sunblock & sensibility".)
- Q: Is it true that you can't throw toilet paper into the toilet in
Brazil?! What do you do with it?!
- A: Generally speaking, and with few exceptions, you carefully place
the "soiled tissue" into a trash receptical sitting next to the toilet, where one would hope it doesn't stew too long before
somebody gets around to cleaning the thing out. The unfortunate truth
is that the Brazilian Plumbing Ethos is part of the general Brazilian
Construction Ethos, ergo: nobody's going to see it; why waste money
doing it right? Narrow pipes cost less than fat pipes, never mind that
they are also easier to clog up.
- Q: So that's why they so often have that little water-pistol-on-a-hose
gizmo next to the john?
- A: That and for "feminine hygiene".
- Q: Okay, as long as we're being open about things, are Brazilians
as sexually liberated as they are reputed to be?
- A: In a nutshell: yes. But that doesn't mean it's okay to come here
and act like a horny jerk. A lot of guys get here (I'm going to tackle
this from a man's POV) and fall prey to a misconception based on the
locked eyes and meaningful lingering glances, of the sort that James
Bond gets, directed at them. It's like presto chango! somehow they've
been miraculously transformed into Very Desirable Males, and all it
took was a plane trip! Well, maybe they are desirable in the
dark eyes which behold them, but more often than not they are being
naive tourists and the owner of the dark eyes is not staring into their
souls, but rather their pockets. So far no problem really, but some
of these guys, instant Lotharios, adopt a completely unsuitable attitude
towards all Brazilian women, assuming that they are fair and easy game.
That's not only not true, it's disrespectful. Brazilians generally do
have a more easy-going attitude towards sex than their North American
or Western European counterparts, but charm, good humor, and above all
a sense of the limits of decency are a part of the mix. Guys who don't
understand this and assume otherwise are, well, jerks!
- Q: What kinds of trees line the streets in Salvador?
- A: Almond and tamarind are the most common. Mango and avocado
are common backyard trees. Of course there are plenty of coconut
palms around as well, and lots of the lush dendé trees which
provide the "nut" from which the oil so essential to Bahian
cuisine is derived.
- Q: What's the difference between a sambista and a sambador?
- A: I knew you were wondering that! Their hats. And
the hats they wear are a function of the type of music they play.
A sambista plays Rio-style samba and wears a jaunty white straw fedora
appropriate for a street-smart city slicker. A sambador plays
Bahian samba-de-roda and wears a darker hat appropriate for a salt-of-the-earth
The Music Maker
The Bad Guy
A: Those are cangaçeiro hats. Cangaçeiros were, depending on your perspective, either bloodthirsty bandits or antiestablishment Robin Hoods (the most notorious being Lampião), who, in either case, terrorized the backlands of Brazil's Nordeste. And whatever your opinion of the cangaçeiros might be, you can't take away from them the fact that their hats were very cool, so cool in fact that the style was adopted by the great Luiz Gonzaga, and hence by others who play the music of this part of Brazil.
Why, if it isn't David Byrne!
Q: Moving along then, what exactly is the connection between the American midwestern state
of Indiana and Bahian samba-de-roda?
A: Anything Goes! The Cole Porter song in the musical of the
same name uses a clave (okay, that's a Cuban and not a Brazilian term)
identical to that used in Bahian roots samba (and that of Luiz Gonzaga's baião forró rhythm too). The clave came to
Cole Porter by way of the Charleston, a dance which (incidentally) originated
in a community with roots in West Africa. And the urbane Mr. Porter
was (of course) from Peru, Indiana.
Sambista? I doubt it! Beguinista? For sure!
Q: What kind of jokes do Brazilians tell?
A: In the spirit of Americans telling Kentucky jokes, Canadians telling
Newfie jokes, the English telling Irish jokes, and the Irish telling
Kerryman jokes, the Brazilians tell, among other things, Portuguese jokes.
- Q: Why are your pages so red?
- A: Red is the color of Xangô. White is too. Red and white! I
think that's pretty cool!