Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Park Slope 100

truth and rocket science has been included on this year’s “Park Slope 100,” a list compiled by Louise Crawford on her blog, “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”  Anyone from the neighborhood is familiar with Louise and her work, whether in her Smart Mom column in the weekly Brooklyn Paper, or the Brooklyn Reading Works, or the blog, or many other events.  Obviously, she can’t place herself on the list, but all of us in the nabe know that she makes it that much better for the rest of to do things of value around here.  A heartfelt thanks to Louise!  What an honor to be on a list with favorite blogs like Fucked in Park Slope and Brit in Brooklyn, and writers like Frank McCourt.

Oh, and speaking of the Brooklyn Reading Works . . . truth and rocket science will be curating the April 15, 2010, edition of Brooklyn Reading Works, on “The Truth and Money” . . . of which more later.  Keep tuned.

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Tamba-Tajá, 2

This post continues the story of my trip to rural Moju in 1993.  Double-click the photos to see them in original size.  One more installment of the story is left…

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Rosângela was Nego’s aunt, and it turned out he and I knew all the same people, so I went home at 3 in the morning to collect my things and meet him back at the Tamba-Tajá.  I brought my toothbrush, a blank notebook and a couple changes of clothes to last me through Tuesday.  Back at his parents’ house, Nego and I got a couple hours’ semi-drunken sleep before we set off for the docks in Cidade Velha, Belém’s old quarter, from which you can get local boats for just about anywhere in the Amazon.

Everyone laughed at Nego and me in our hangovers.  Aluízio, the patriarch, had seen this before.  Nego’s twin brother ribbed us through our headaches.  Nego’s mom just shook her head, while his sister chased after her 4 year old son, Hugo – her yelps of “ooooo-go!” “ooooo-go!” (in Portuguese the “H” in Hugo is silent) echoing throughout the trip as she tracked after the boy to keep him from falling off the boat, pull him away from knives, or just quiet him for a few minutes so we could rest our ears.  Oscar, Hugo’s dad, hung with Aluízio and Nego’s mom, who made sure I was comfortable and happy as we set off.

This was my first boat trip in Amazonia, crossing the Baía de Guajurá to the bus stop at Barcarena.  As the boat backed away from the dock, we watched the city recede into a collection of smaller houses and palm trees, behind which rose a massive skyline of highrise apartment buildings.  A lot of women from Jurunas live in those highrise apartments, in the maid’s quarters, next to ironing boards and sewing machines, just off the kitchen.

Belém, from the Baía de Guajurá

It took an hour to cross the bay, where we waited for the bus in a parking lot.  Used to be you went everywhere by boat, Nego told me, and then it took a full 24 hours to get to their little farm in Moju.  With the roads and busses the trip shrunk to about 5 hours, quite an advance from the past.  The bus ride itself was broken into a couple of parts, because you had to cross the Moju River and then change busses in the town.  At the river, everyone got out the bus and ran down to water, where dozens of men and boys waited to ferry people across in small, open, wooden boats, a few cruzeiros for each person.  About 20 minutes later, we were on the other side, in Moju town.

Moju was a typical Amazon river-town – a collection of dusty buildings and streets, a trading post, some government buildings.  In the center of town were the older houses, stuccoed and whitewashed, with Portuguese-blue lintels and trim.  The further you went out from the center, the houses turned to wood and occasionally brick, getting smaller and more rustic.  Nego had some relatives in Moju, one of whom was a political official of some sort.

Marajó 1998

Nego’s own family was from Marajó, the large island in the mouth of the Amazon, to the northwest of Belém.  There, Aluízio had been a mayor in some small town at one time or another.  He was a staunch member of the “PMDB” – Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement – which was the official opposition party during the military regime in the 1970s and 1980s.  By the 1990s, the PMDB was the official party of the state governor, Jader Barbalho, who rode the opposition wave to wealth and finally condemnation as one of Brazil’s most corrupt politicians.  Aluízio complained that all his children were “petistas” – for the party initials “PT,” the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers Party), which was the main left-wing party that had emerged in 79 as a more radical alternative to the Aluízio’s own PMDB.  Nego laughs when Aluízio says these things.

From Moju, we took the road again.  It started out paved and but wound up in the same red clay as the streets of Jurunas.  Thick rainforest alternated with cattle pastures.  Charred stumps poked out the ground amid sparse tufts of long grass that would grow on the land for a couple of years, until the topsoil becomes barren and can support vegetation no more.  All the life in Amazonia is in the trees and bushes, and the soil they sit on is barren.  Charred stumps and lumps of clay.  Loam.  Shrublike bushes.  Not too many cows out there, but it sure was hot.

So we barreled on down the road toward some place I’d never seen.  By early afternoon we stopped and got off the bus in front of a small wooden shack by the side of the road.  A smaller path left the roadside and disappeared into forest behind the house.  A man greeted us and we went inside to eat, have a drink of water, and talk about the latest events in the area.  This man was Nego’s uncle.  He has a small farm next to the road and lived there with his daughter.  Fruit was everywhere, hanging from the trees and on a plate before us.  Mangos, caju, goiaba, pineapple, coconut.  There were rice and beans, chicken.  Good food and a lot of it, for we still had a few kilometers to walk through the forest.

The forest around Moju, 1993

Notes and Credits

The photographs in this posting are all my own, taken on various trips to Belém and environs in the 1990s.

Right now the rainforest and Amazonian issues are stirring up heat at the COP-15 summit, and as someone who has lived a significant portion of my adult life in Belém and has traveled all over Amazônia, I am hoping that some good things might come of this.  The ties between deforestation and cows and greenhouse gasses are tight, though as Brazilian researcher and advocate João Meirelles Filho notes, cows are a bigger problem than Brazil or the Amazon.  I don’t hold out that much hope from politicians, however, but I do find a lot to inspire in guys like Doug, whose Amazon Pilgrim blog recounts his journey across the Amazon, from Belém to Peru, by bicycle.

You can find out more about Doug and his adventures at Green Upgrader, where he’s an editor.

And of course, we can always find inspiration with one of the most popular foreign rock bands in Brasil, or anywhere else, for that matter, outside of their home Germany – and I am speaking of course of The Scorpions, whose concerts in Manaus have been sold out for the good of Greenpeace and the rainforest.  For a different kind of concert in Manaus by foreign travelers, check out “Our Jungle Journey,” a blog by a North American couple who moved to Manaus to play in the symphony orchestra and other music groups there.  They’re enjoying the splendid, world famous Manaus Opera House, one of the true gems of the Amazon’s belle epoque during the rubber boom (1880s through 1920s).

One of the most interesting groups working in Amazonia on building sustainable lifestyles for the forest and the people who live there is IMAZON, Instituto do Homem e Meio-Ambiente da Amazônia (Institute for Man and the Environment in Amazonia), which was founded in the 1980s by a team of Brazilian and North American researchers.  I’ve visited there several times in the 1990s and 2000, and they do great work.

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Tamba-Tajá, 1

Santa Maria de Belém do Grão-Pará

I’d been introduced to the Tamba-Tajá by Marga, who was a Lutheran minister, human rights activist, and liberation theologist.  The bar’s owners were her friends, Iza and Rosângela, who were related by marriage.  Iza had been a revolutionary and women’s rights activist in Brazil for many years, including the worst years of the military dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s.  Rosângela was raising her children and grandchildren while selling apartment leases in Belém and generally dabbling in real estate.

They named their bar for a plant of local legend, called Tamba-Tajá by Amazonian natives, known as the Elephant Ear plant to others, which people grew in their yards.  The Tamba-Tajá can tell if there is much love in the house, very little, or if one of the spouses is cheating.  A friend of mine in Belém made a point of telling me that a smart woman always plants one in her yard.

The bar called Tamba-Tajá was a family affair in the working class neighborhood of Jurunas.  In January, during the height of the rainy season, the streets of Jurunas are deep with a mud of dark, red clay which can also be home to ferocious tribes of fire ants out in the countryside. People debate which is better, the mud during rainfall or the fine red dust kicked into the air when the streets are dry.  The dust gets in your nostrils and mouth, leaving the taste of clay on your tongue.  They say the dust causes the “gripe,” colds and fevers everyone lives with and no one likes.

A street in Jurunas, 1993

The Tamba-Tajá opened right on to the unpaved street.  It was in the bottom floor of the house where Iza’s estranged and still quite revolutionary husband lived.  He was a poet of some local fame.  The bar was completely open to the outside, inside and outside having little meaning in a place where inside is often outside, defined less by bricks or wood than by the way people inhabit those spaces.  In the front, palm trees shade the patio and keep the rain off people as they eat and dance and drink.

The windows are open to the outside air, too, as there are no screens in Belém, except on Marga’s house, perhaps because she was descended from Germans.  In the streets and through the windows of the Tamba-Tajá you can see dark silhouettes of palm trees swaying in the breeze over Jurunas and its little, wooden houses, home to too many people with too little money, though they always seem to have enough to stop by the Tamba-Tajá and the other housefront bars in the neighborhood on a Friday night. Cold beer beats the heat in Belém.

There’s a group of reggae musicians who hang out at the Tamba-Tajá, along with political dreamers and the friends and family of Iza and Rosângela.  These musicians spin records on some nights and everyone dances.  The sweat soaks your body as you twist and find a place in the scratchy rhythms booming from the old, battered speakers Ivan dragged to the bar on the back of his bicycle. Over crackling, jerry-rigged wires and pounding drums, Bob Marley lived for a while at the Tamba-Tajá.

The first time I went there was to meet Marga and celebrate Iza’s birthday.  They had me play for them.  The stereo wires were re-rigged to a microphone that had seen much better days many years ago, and they gave me a guitar that made the microphone look like a piece of new equipment.  I didn’t know any Brazilian songs, but that’s not what they wanted to hear from me.  “Let It Be” always brings down the house in Brazil.  And it did again, that night at the Tamba-Tajá.

Rua Tupinambás

Now Iza’s birthday had passed, and it was a Friday night.  I hadn’t been over to Tamba-Tajá for a while, and with no plans to speak of I headed for Jurunas, a slow walk about 10 blocks down Rua Tupinambás, like “Jurunas” the name of one of Brazil’s original, native peoples.

It had been a long day for me, with much work to do, and the rain storms were particularly hard.  In Belém, the blue skies of morning typically give way to clouds and showers by mid-afternoon.  From January to May the rain can start in the afternoon and not stop til near daylight.  It washes the city and cleanses its ills and keeps the equatorial sun from burning everyone and everything to a crisp.  In all, about 86 inches of rain falls in Belém each year, a little over 7 feet.

The rain leaves the air smelling fresh with the breeze off the giant Guarajá Bay, which brings the ocean to into the mouths of the three rivers that surround Belém:  the Amazon, Toncantins and Guamá.  The ocean tides are sometimes so strong that they send waves up the rivers, so that they seem to flow backwards for a while.  Pororoca, they call it.  All this water gives life to the land and its people.

As I walked down Tupinambás, I looked to the sky for signs of rain, letting my eyes graze the cloud bottoms and measure how far or close they might be.  The city lights bounced back from the clouds, and the clouds glowed orange in the distance, a false sunset that lasts all night long until the clouds dissipate in the coolness of dawn and the new day.

Tonight at the Tamba-Tajá there was no one I knew, save for Rosângela.  I greeted her, got a frosty Kaiser, and sat down at a table of strangers, just listening to the conversation.  A man was speaking to a boy.  The man held his right arm across his chest.  He held his right arm with his left hand, as he would the neck of a guitar.  The boy did the same.

So we began to speak about music.  The man called himself “Nego,” which is a common nickname meaning “black dude.”  The boy I recognized from reggae nights at the Tamba-Tajá.  He had wide, brown eyes that spoke of youth.  Nego had curly black hair thick atop his head, a round face and full lips like my own. His smile and manner drew me in.  He asked me questions, about music, my life, why I was sitting in the Tamba-Tajá and what I was doing.  We talked for a long time, over a few more Kaisers.  The others round us had their own conversations, and we had ours.

Nego wanted to know if I’d ever been out of the city to see the forest.  I hadn’t.  He asked me if I’d like to go with his family to a farm they have in the middle of the forest, a day away from Belém in Moju.  I said, “sure, Id love that.”

“We’ll leave in a couple hours,” he said.

Notes and Credits

This story, Tamba-Tajá, will be told in 3 parts on truth and rocket science.  It recounts a visit I took to the bar on a Friday night in 1993, during my year of doctoral research on Belém.  There I met a young man who became a close friend for most of 1993, and he invited me out to his family’s farm in the rainforest.  I returned home on Tuesday.

I took the photo of Belém’s docks in the “Cidade Velha” in April 1993, as the boat left Belém for the journey that is recounted in this story.  “Cidade Velha” means “old city” and refers to the original colonial settlement of Belém that was established in 1616 to consolidate Portugal’s claims over the Amazon.  The other photos of Jurunas were taken around the same time by me, except for the photo of Rua Tupinambas.  That photo comes form the site Skyscraper City, which contains a great number of photos of Belem.  Very nice collection!

For more on my friend, Rosa Marga Rothe, see her Wikipedia page.  Her daughter, Iva Rothe, is a accomplished musician.

The picture of the Tamba-Tajá plant in the text is from the website, “Pasarela Cultural,” which goes on to discuss the legend of the Tamba-Tajá.

The legend of the Tamba-Tajá can be found all over the Web.  Silvana Nunes’s fotolog has a great photo of the plant and a simple text of the myth, which I have translated.  Nunes, a teacher and photographer, has another blog called “Foi desse jeito que eu ouvi dizer…” (this is how I heard it…).

In the Macuxi tribe there was a very strong and intelligent Indian.  One day, he fell in love with a beautiful Indian woman from his village.  They were married a little later, and they were very happy, until one day the woman became very ill and was paralyzed.

So that he wouldn’t be separated from his love, the Macuxi man made a sling to carry the woman on his back, taking her everywhere he went.  One day, however, the man noticed that his cargo was heavier than normal.  When he untied the sling, he found that his beloved wife was dead.

The man went into the forest and dug a hole on the edge of a creek.  He buried himself together with his wife, for there was no reason for him to continue living.  Some time passed until a full moon appeared in the same place where they were buried, and a gracious plant unknown to the Macuxis began to grow there.

The plant was the Tamba-Tajá, with dark green triangular leaves, which have on their backside another, smaller leaf which appears similar to the female gentialia.  Together, the two leaves symbolize the great love that the Macuxi couple had.

Amazonian caboclos grow the plant near their houses and attribute mystical powers to it.  If, for example, the plant grows well with exuberant, lush leaves, it’s a sign that there is much love in that house.  But if the larger leaves don’t have the smaller ones on their backs, there is no love in the house.  If there is more than one smaller leaf on the backside of the larger one, one of the spouses if unfaithful.

The photo of the Tamba-Tajá plant in the story’s text shows the “small leaf” or flower on the backside of the Elephant Ear quite well.  Without that flower, love ain’t going right in the house.

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From Life on Mars to Linden, addendum

In the last few weeks, the post “The truth and change, 3a:  From Life On Mars to Linden” has been getting a lot of hits.  Its spike in the data has pushed it to the most-hit post of all time for me, past the old standards of “The truth and us” and “The truth and unicorns, parts 1 and 2.”  I am really interested to know how and why this spike is occuring from those visiting.  Feel free to email me (jguidryDOT7ATgmailDOTcom) or Twitter (@truthandrockets) or leave a comment here.

I started to put this addendum together right after fininshing the Life on Mars post a few months ago.  I had uncovered so much interesting stuff and, as it always happens, realized how much I had missed once I had published the posting.  In spite of all my good intentions, I let the addendum lay in the to-do tray whilst writing up other things of interest to me.  I continue to be fascinated by the way that virtual spaces and so-called “real life” affirm each other’s essential meaning in our world.  I’ve also begun to write a longish story about organic/avatar relationships and welcome any interesting comments or links from people about their own stories or interests in the phenomenon.  So here are some fun things . . .

The Arch is a blog about design and architecture in Second Life that goes into great detail on the kinds of Houses of Tomorrow that can exist today in the virtual world.  They’ve posted a great short video on YouTube, and if you follow the “related videos” you can drop into a whole new world virtual vouyerism.  Enjoy!

Elle Kirshner’s Second Spaces is an interior design blog that highlights the newest designs for your home in SL.  Elle is a designer herself, and by just clicking through her site you can see a lot of the interesting concepts and designs about space that are important to virtual life.  From Second Speaces, you can also link to Elle’s friends and other businesses, learning a lot about SL’s economic and social life.

One of the interesting and most wonderful consequences of my original post “From Life on Mars to Linden” was that I picked up a new Twitter follower (and presumably blog reader):  Botgirl.  Botgirl’s Tweets (@botgirlq) are a veritable library of hyper-current thinking on storytelling that have become a great source for me as I write and think.  Should you Tweet and link through Botgirl’s world, you’ll realize that this Avatar and her RL typist brings into focus a whole world of multiple and parallel ontologies that really do get at (what I see as) the really important things about life.  If you’re a storyteller then you need to become friends with Botgirl.

Virtual existence brings into high relief the way in which storytelling truly becomes part and parcel of being.  Call it an auto-ontological environment, in you will, in which stories become magically real.  Lanna Beresford’s blog “Avatars in Wonderland” takes up these themes and helps us see how to live on these parallel planes.  In “All the virtual world’s a stage” she interviews role-player Salvatore Otoro.

Finally, the interest in the economics of virtual worlds is something I find truly captivating, not so much from the standpoint of getting into biz myself but rather from the perspective of learning how we create value.  Intrinsically, there is no value in nature, and then we come along and begin to create value.  Sometimes we create value out of scarcity, sometimes out of thin air.  Eventually, it always comes to scarcity and control, however.  With the Virtual Economy Research Network, you can keep up with a group of people doing some pretty serious study of virtual economics.

There’s much more to see.  Much more to look at.  Many more stories to create.  We’ll keep writing . . .

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