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Pierre Fatumi Verger

Friday, July 1st, 2005

29 June 2005 (Wednesday) – Belo Horizonte to Salvador, Brazil

I wandered down along Av. Afonso Pena, much the same way as I did 3 days ago. This time round, the traffic was of course not closed and I found myself staring at the massive avenue with its heavy traffic. Wow, again, I marvelled at how this long stretch in front of Parque Municipal could be transformed into that huge, busy Sunday feira and then, reverted back to its true form by the afternoon. The amount of logistics involved!

When I came upon the Palacio des Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Palace), I entered it, figuring this might be another Niemeyer’s design. There were several renovation works going on and as I could not find anything interesting to admire, I prepared to leave. Then, just as I was out of the door, I spotted what looked to be a photography exhibition next to the exit.

It was an exhibition of the photography works of Pierre Verger, a famous French photographer. I had seen his signature around but never really found out properly who he was.

And… my goodness, I was totally blown away!

The first was an exhibit of his passport pages and indications of where he had been in his long life, starting from his first trip in the 1930s to his last trips in the late 1980s. He had travelled to nearly all continents – Europe, Asia, Africa and America. He obviously had a special love for West Africa and Brazil, visiting Senegal 10 times, Nigeria 15, Benin 23 and Brazil 26 times in his life.

As I went through the exhibits, I was in absolute awe. I was thorougly touched by his MAGIC. His brilliant works of art in medium format, taken with his Rolliflex in black-and-white, display spontaneity, rhythms, diverse expressions, lyrical compositions, play of light and shadow, of people, cities, cultures… yes, humanity… L-I-F-E!

I was especially moved by one of the exhibits showing the Faces of the World. In there, while staring at the various faces from Japan, China, Mexico, Guatemala, Benin, Togo, Peru, Italy, Brazil, Nigeria…, I found them all staring back at me with pride, joy, intensity, passion, shyness, surprise… I don’t know why but the two times when I entered the room, and then, when I wrote about this in my journal and now, here in the travelblog, I had tears welling up to my eyes. I was just so touched by everyone I saw through his lens, that he allowed me to see through his eyes. And I felt very grateful to them, and to him, for letting me see all this.

He captured LIFE, these people… so different, yet all the same, living under the same sky, sharing the same earth, captured for eternity in these images. Mr Verger had lived with them, loved them and respected them and in turn, he had been loved and respected.

His photos caught all essence of life, people at work, sleeping, performing rituals at Candombles, partying at Carnaval, sharing a hug, having a cigarette, peering shyly out of a window, leaning on each other, looking relaxed, cheering, shouting, playing music, smiling smiling smiling…

I invite you to immerse yourself in the magic of Pierre Verger at
Pierre Verger Photo Library

He had also captured many photographs of Salvador, Bahia, including many of the mysterious Candomble sessions. He had lived in Salvador til his death in 1996. There was a 50-min movie of his life, hosted by the famous Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil, who travelled all over, interviewing him just days before he passed away, and various people who knew him, even visiting some of the kings of the Benin or Togo tribes in West Africa. During his funeral, they naturally performed a sort of African rite reading a message on a wooden plate with some sort of powder and seeds. The message was: His soul is in peace, he had done all he can on earth.

Sure he had. A toast to Pierre Fatumi Verger, to his amazing life and his lifeworks! I extracted two quotes from him, translated below, one because I think it spoke a lot for me and the other, because it is beautiful.

Photo Exhibition of photography legend Mr Pierre Verger

“Comecei a viajar, não tanto pelo desejo de fazer pesquisas etnográficas ou reportagems, mas por necessidade de distancia-me, libertar-me e escapar do meio em que tinha vivido até então, cujos preconcertos e regras de conduta não me tornavam feliz…” (Pierre Verger, 1982)

“I started to travel, not in such a way as to make ethnographical researches or reports, but for the necessity to distance myself, liberate myself and escape from the way in which I have lived until then, where preconceptions and rules of behaviour did not make me happy…” (Pierre Verger, 1982)

“Mas teve uma vez que não me senti branco. Foi uma festa Geledé em plena floresta do atual Benin. Era uma noite escura, sem lua, e o pessoal bailava ao redor de certas árvores. Não tinha luz nenhuma, então conheci uma liberdade que não havia conhecido antes. Não era um branco entre os negros. A escuridão da floresta africana apagou a diferença…” (Pierre Verger, 1990)

“But there was a time when I did not feel white. It was the Geledé festival in the forests of the current Benin. It was a dark night, without moon, and the people danced around certain trees. No one had any light, then I knew a freedom that I have not known before. I was not a white among the blacks. The darkness of the African forest erased the difference…” (Pierre Verger, 1990)

I had bought a bus ticket to Salvador leaving this evening. Because of this exhibition, I had inadvertently been transported to Salvador 1 day earlier. OK, the Salvador now may be different from what Mr Verger had captured in the 1940s-1960s, but I felt it was a sign for me to fully appreciate what Salvador has to offer when I arrive tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

28 June 2005 (Tuesday) – Gruta de Maquine, Brazil

Yesterday morning, I was at the rodoviaria for quite a while, deciding what my future days would be. One of the decisions made then was to take the bus to Gruta de Maquine today, a cave, some 112km from Belo Horizonte. While the decision had been made then with MUCH thought, I ended up wondering TODAY… what in the world I was thinking then!

Firstly, the bus to the cave leaves at the ungodly hour of 6:30am and returns at 4:20pm. I had brought along my mobile-phone to be used as an alarm clock but as I had not been able to recharge it here in Brazil, I had not used it since I left Buenos Aires. Thank goodness, I have another alarm clock with me, but I _found_ this clock and personally, I had never had it tested on me yet. Nevertheless, I had the presence of mind to check the battery yesterday – dead – and had the battery replaced at Mercado Central.

Throughout the night, I woke up repeatedly, concerned that I would not hear the alarm go off. I woke up at 1:40am and at 3:40am. I berated myself for my insecurity… I would hear the alarm, don’t worry, go to sleep.

Suddenly, I was woken up by a knock on the door. “Sim?“, I asked sleepily. The senhora of the hostel informed me that it was already 6am and reminded me that I had a bus ticket for 6:30am. What the hey???? Already 6am?? I scrambled out of bed and got ready in 2 minutes. I didn’t even brush my teeth!

As expected, I slept nearly the entire 3-hour ride to Gruta de Maquine and we arrived at around 9am. I was the only tourist there. I bought a ticket and a scholarly-looking elderly gentleman guided me through the caves. Something about me and caves, it seemed. In a way, after a while, they all look the same. But still, despite my slight claustrophobia and poor eyesight in the dark, I always found myself drawn to visit a cave or two. And this one was really huge and nice. The temperature totally changed the minute we entered the cave. It suddenly felt very warm. I later learnt it was because there was no fresh oxygen in the cave. The guide showed me various formations and explained everything to me in Portuguese. I pretended to understand, and sometimes, I did understand. I even managed to ask him a question or two.

Gruta Maquina

The little tour of the cave ended by 10am. I looked at my watch and calculated the time I had to wait for the return bus. 6 hours! This decision to come to Gruta de Maquine was thoroughly ridiculous. To leave at 6:30am (without brushing my teeth too!), travel for 3 hours by bus, see the cave for 1 hour, wait 6 hours, and travel 3 hours back to Belo Horizonte. Not so bright, was I? What am I to do with 6 hours??

Nevertheless, determined to overcome my ridiculous decision by turning whatever experience into something positive, I found a nice little spot near the cave entrance, took out my book to read.

There were many little birds flying around the cave entrance, popping into and out of the little holes way up where their nests must be. Meanwhile, hovering around me were various species of colourful butterflies… I called them, the Tangerine (orange-coloured) sect and the Bumble-bee (yellow and black-coloured) sect. My apologies to butterflylogists.

I heard a rustle and spied a gecko… Licky. He darted up a rock, gobbled up something, paused for a moment, then dashed off to some bushes behind. Cute.

I returned my eyes to the book for a while before spotting a tiny little green worm making his way across the ground below my boots. That would be Mr Omega, for obvious reason. I was thoroughly fascinated by Mr Omega as he made his epic journey across the endless land, so I sat staring at him for a few minutes. Sometimes, he even fell over at his most ‘omega’ position. Poor little dear.

I heard another rustle. Licky? That you? No, this was a smaller gecko, a rather sweet one – Junior. Ah, there Licky was, appearing again mysteriously behind another rock, all poised and ready. He looked around sharply and darted off somewhere. Back to the book for a while… before my eyelids felt rather heavy. I stretched out on the bench and promptly fell asleep for about an hour or so.

When I woke up, I looked around for Licky again. Nowhere in sight. Junior came scurrying by though, very pensive-looking. Now, where was I in the book… I heard some footsteps, and a big brown dog trotted by. She looked rather vague, distractingly browsing for something as she passed by me, ignoring me. That would be Nonnie, for her nonchalance attitude. She did not appear to find what she was looking for, returned the same way she came from, ignoring me again. Rustle, rustle… must be Licky again.

I must have been asleep for quite a while, as now I found a tiny little spider hanging from his thread from the end of my hair! Gosh, he must be at his first step of engulfing me in his web of deceit. Tchau, tchau, arañita! Nono, I didn’t kill him. I gently scooped him out and tossed him to a bush next to me.

Ah, hey Licky, there he was… right over there. Oh, Licky has a little girl-friend… No, wait!!! That’s NOT Licky! He’s at least 2 sizes smaller! What a horrendous mistake!!!!

And that was how I spent 3.5 hours reading Umberto Eco‘s Foucault’s Pendulum.

Overcome by hunger later, I headed to the restaurant below and ordered lunch. The TV was showing yet another football match. Hey, between Argentina and Brazil. Again?? Whatever cup it was, the score was Argentina 1- Brazil 0 at the moment. I was munching away when I heard GGGGGOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!! Destined to always miss goals, I looked up to try and catch the replay. But 2 guys had stood right in front of the TV set by now, basking in national glory of attaining a Brazilian goal.

I continued with lunch slowly, carefully ignoring the feijoada, and then, this time, my eyes happened to be trained on the TV set just in time to catch an Argentine goal. There was no one in the restaurant at the moment, but the commentator’s GGGGOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!!! finally drew an elderly woman into the room. She had been knitting in the far corner and must had gone to the toilet for a moment. “Goal??? Argentina? (pronounced ‘Ar-gen-chi-na’) Goal????? Argentina?????”, looking at me, with some horrors, for confirmation. I nodded. She turned back to the TV set, thoroughly despondent. Two other persons hurried into the restaurant and stared, totally crestfallen. Then, it was all over and Argentina won! Yeah!! But in order not to draw attention to my joy, I had to pretend to seriously saw my tomatoes apart.

And that was how I spent another 2.5 hours eating lunch.

Mellow Fellow Belo

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005
27 June 2005 (Monday) - Belo Horizonte, Brazil Let me explain a little about the layout of Belo Horizonte. Imagine, squares with criss-crossing 1-way streets. Then, imagine, another series of squares, much larger... perhaps, between 4 to 5 of the smaller ... [Continue reading this entry]

International Woman of Feiras

Monday, June 27th, 2005
26 June 2005 (Sunday) - Belo Horizonte, Brazil I finally opened my eyes (closing my eyes did not mean I slept) as I heard delighted shouts from the other low-lifes (like me) who paid for the cheapest ticket on the jiggly ... [Continue reading this entry]

Road to Belo Horizonte

Monday, June 27th, 2005
25 June 2005 (Saturday) - Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte, Brazil My last day in Rio de Janeiro today. Yep, it is time to move on. I had really enjoyed my time here, wandering around and absorbing the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Winter in Rio

Sunday, June 26th, 2005
24 June 2005 (Friday) - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Today, it seemed really bright and blue. Finally, this was perhaps my last chance to get it right by heading to one of the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. At ... [Continue reading this entry]

City of Gods

Friday, June 24th, 2005
23 June 2005 (Thursday) - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil I heard about a square called Largo do Boticario that is just a stone's throw away from where I was staying. It is a square that apparently had some really old and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Celebra-drink Life

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

22 June 2005 (Wednesday) - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

There was a cold front that set in since last Sunday and it caused some rain yesterday. Yes, I now learn that Rio de Janeiro does rain! Time to adjust the picture-perfect ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bamboo in My Soul

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005
21 June 2005 (Tuesday) - Paraty to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil The streets of Paraty are strikingly lined with huge round stones that are tricky to walk on properly without looking. Yesterday, my thoughts had been - "Oh dear, I ... [Continue reading this entry]

Para Ti

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005
20 June 2005 (Monday) - Rio de Janeiro to Paraty, Brazil I had found out the bus schedules to Paraty earlier - 4am, 6am, 9am, 12+pm, etc... Who in the world heads out anywhere at 4am or 6am?? I would ... [Continue reading this entry]