On a more serious note, the worst experience I ever had with a taxi driver was very recent. It was fortunately just a short way from the Historic District to the Historical and Geographic Institute. Somewhere en route, the driver and I got to talking about crime (always a meaty subject with taxi drivers, as they are unusually exposed to it) and he revealed that he was a police officer. Then he regaled me with the story of how he was jogging along Dique do Tororo in his expensive trainers, wearing an even more expensive watch, when a mugger pointed a knife at him and demanded that he hand them over.
He did, but as the mugger was walking away, the cop/cabbie pulled out his concealed gun and aimed it at his assailant. When the mugger pleaded for his life, the former victim, now executioner, said he was going to send him somewhere no lawyer could get him out of and riddled him with bullets. Then he rang up his friends on the force and had forensics clean up the crime scene!
I was chilled. And terrified. There I was in the same vehicle with a confessed cold-blooded killer who was clearly proud of his exploits. We were close to the institute, so instead of asking him to go around Piedade Square and leave me at the front gate as I would normally have done, I asked him to pull over at the other side of the square, hopped out, paid my fare, and breathed untainted air again. I was reminded of my first impression of Brazil when I arrived in December 1986 – people seemed to be more afraid of the cops than of the robbers. In nearly 30 years, nothing seems to have changed…
Orisha statues by Tatti Moreno (photo: Sabrina Gledhill, 2012)
In my last post, I reflected on the lack of wildfowl on the Dique do Tororó. I failed to mention another element that has become a permanent part of the landscape so far, heightening its status as a tourist attraction and picture postcard while causing some controversy. I’m referring to the statues of orishas, Afro-Brazilian divinities, created by sculptor Tatti Moreno and installed in and around Tororó during the most recent landscaping project completed in 1998.
The statues are controversial because the Pentecostals disapprove of religious imagery in general. The previous mayor, João Henrique Carneiro, was of that persuasion. He allegedly wanted to remove them for religious reasons, but their scenic and tourist value spoke louder. For practitioners of Candomblé, as orisha worship is called in Bahia, the statues are just that. Statues. They do not contain any ashé – the divine energy of creation. The lagoon is sacred for its waters and is still the site of offerings, although they have to be made discreetly since the landscaping project was carried out.
Previously, the picturesque boats that transport pedestrians from one side to the other in lieu of a bridge could also be hired to go out to the deepest parts of the Dique that are sacred to Oshun and Yemanjá, and place offerings in the waters. To this day, in the wee hours before the Yemanjá Festival on 2 February, devotees head for Tororó to make offerings for Oshun, the divinity of fresh water, motherhood and prosperity, beforehand. That is because the feast of Our Lady of Light is actually Oshun’s day, according to the traditions that associate Afro-Brazilian divinities with Catholic saints (see my post on Afro-Brazilian syncretism).
Postcard of the Dique do Toróro at the turn of the century
Link to photos of the Dique when there were geese (scroll down)
I love to drive by the Dique do Tororó – an artificial lagoon encrusted in the heart of Salvador, Bahia. If you look at the water and its landscaped surroundings, you will almost feel that you have found London’s Hyde Park in the tropics – at least, the Serpentine. But if you look in the other direction, you will see jumbled heaps of motley brick dwellings sprouting almost organically from the hillsides. And this is where the European concept of a manicured urban oasis cum sculpture garden misses out on the most important factor – in my mind – the swans, ducks and geese that are the main adornment of any London park, or English river, for that matter. Attempts have been made to introduce different kinds of wildfowl into the Tororó landscape, but they have all met with foul play. In other words, they ended up on someone’s dinner table. Until the problems of poverty and the attendant hunger pangs are solved in the surrounding neighbourhoods, the wings of wild geese will never shimmer over the waters of Tororó.
Aerial view of Dique do Tororó – taken before the construction of the present-day Fonte Nova Arena