. . .The firm grasp of a shoulder in friendship acts within the bounds of the street’s possibilities, and in fact reflects one of its ideals. It’s a ritualistic impulse sanctioned both by the site, and by the guidelines of friendship, of camaraderie understood through the art of playfulness, of bodily responses to happiness and pleasure, and of a commonality reflected in genuine expressions of solidarity. The body, communicating in a place, sets the mood, the tone, the feeling; but always in learnt ways.

Always in learnt ways. We’re heading for essentialist conclusions, the predictable search for origins, a stable centre from which this form of behaviour derives, a pattern of behaviour we’ll call Brazilian, and only Brazilian. But does behaviour on the street really rely on those simple cultural conventions that are learnt, like for instance, when I see bread eaten by mopping up a mixture of salt and olive oil off the plate in homes, restaurants and cafes? If so, are they by necessity, the result of something deeper and more rooted, something more determined by the wiring of a putative Brazilian psyche that persists? . . .


Journal entry – December 11th, Salvador

Arnoldo – o satellite. Early fifties, athletic, goatee. Two pats on the back. Let’s go and have a beer; why not, I’ve hardly met anyone; this guy’s local. I’ve got six sons and daughters, all in Europe. Don’t press him. Another beer? Come to my place tonight for a nice fish meal and some beer. I live in Pelourinho, my money’s there. Do you smoke? Have you eaten? Hints. I can see you think I’m rich; two kicks on the shins, a bit nasty now, all upset. Still ripped me off – offers to take the money to the bar to pay when I say I’m leaving; I let him and don’t see the change; he’s gone.

I see him later that night round Pelourinho. I avoid him the first time, then see him again – Po Simon! Po Simon! (Paul Simon he’d already christened me on the beach when I told him my name). I ask him what happened to the change. Mistake. I could see he was in a bad way – drink, drugs, you know. Still persist. We walk slowly through the crowded streets; we pass a street-seller – grave look, shakes a hidden finger; that’s a warning; I signal it’s ok, I understand. Quer ver capoiera comigo? – Want to see some capoiera? Not the touristy stuff you get round here, the real thing; I used to be a master; come on, I’ll show you. Dodgy. Streets still busy though; I know exactly where I am, stick with him for a while.

All this time I guess he was putting his plan into action; he’d thought about the route he’d take me, how he’d get me there and where exactly it would happen. We talk about Pelourinho, about how much it’s changed even in his lifetime; his family fought to stay here in the city’s historic heart. Says he likes meeting people from other countries, says its interesting – and the Bahianas, well they’re just so welcoming.

We turn a corner; quiet; empty. It’s changing, still ok’ish; soon time; time to make my exit, think. Think. Next street, that’s far enough. We turn the corner and someone else gives me that same warning with the finger. Right, got it. What now? Think. Think. Should I run? Will it come to that? Do I have to turn and run? A kid runs out suddenly from a house shouting at me ‘Não vai com ele! Não vai com ele!’ – ‘Don’t go with him, he’s dangerous, he’ll take you to the favela; he’ll kill you!’ He runs all over the place, circling, jumping, shouting, but keeps his distance. Arnoldo’s agitated. Turns – don’t you want to see it? Quer não? Distracted by the kid. Then in slow motion, I catch it – feet slowly, slyly slipping out of flip-flops; for me or for the boy? GO. Both run. His instinct now to go after the kid; take my chance; don’t look back. Lights, people, safety.

A few minutes later and the kid appears in front of me from nowhere. Must have got away; didn’t doubt it. Thanks. We sit on the steps of an old stone cross and talk. Arnoldo was trouble. He’d been with the police four times. Many tourists have been mugged in that street, he’d seen it, all that blood pouring down their heads. Arnoldo had killed people. Didn’t I know he was a crack-head? Don’t I deserve something for saving you? Just R$2 – I need enough for the bus-fare home. He says he’s tired and leaves. . .