I held out my hand in introduction and said “My name is Paul.” She replied in perfect English “My name is Elaine.” I was not prepared for an English sounding name and embarrassed had to ask her to repeat her name. It took two tries before I understood her to say Elaine by which time my cheeks were glowing in embarrassment.
Her hand was soft and warm and unlike so many women who hold your hand as it were overripe fruit her grip was confidant and strong. Before I could even think about it I reached over and pulled the chair next to me away from the table and gestured for her to sit.
As I sat down, I thought “ What a lucky coincidence that this was. The only woman on the ship that I had noticed, the only woman on this voyage I had wanted to meet was now sitting next to me. I made a mental note to thank god and to remember to bring cash to the next meal to tip the Maitre D.
I wish I could tell you that I could remember every single bit of our conversation that night. That I could repeat it word for word. That each syllable is indelibly etched memory. Sadly that is not the case. I was so overjoyed to be relieved of the burden of only listening to my own thoughts, of being with people who spoke my language well, and being next to this woman who had caught my eye for days that the specifics of our conversations are lost.
What I remember is that all asked where I was from and when I told them New York they got very excited about my city. They all told me that they loved it there. Elaine mentioning that she has been there many times and had even lived there for a while studying English.
They told me that they were from Rio. And when I told them how much I had enjoyed the city a few days previous Elaine told me that you could see Rio in a day and that I needed to come back and let her be my tour guide. Attempting to flirt I said I would hold her to that, but she said “of course. It is why I said it” almost as if I had insulted her integrity. I thankfully did not know then that Brazilian custom dictates an invitation to your home when you meet someone. Regardless, for the second time that evening I felt the blood rush to my face embarrassed her taking my comment the wrong way. I swore to myself to tread more easily in the future.
At one point I asked Elaine how she had come to be on this cruise. She told me that her sister Yara had planned the trip, but she had come because her father had been very sick and she had been caring for him. Caregiving had taken an emotional toll that she knew she needed to get away to regain her health and her spirit. This took me back a little. Not because I didn’t understand the need to take a vacation from caregiving but because I understood all too well. It was, after all, was one of the main reasons for being on the cruise. What were the chances?
I recall the conversation was easy, that the food and service good and that all to quickly the last crumb of dessert consumed. I didn’t want the dinner to end so I told them that “I would be honored if I could buy them a drink’ feeling far more a shy teenager that the middle aged man I was. When they declined they must have seen my face drop because Elaine said to me “But we are going to show would you like to go with us?” I readily agreed and followed them into the theatre with my hands clasped behind my back like I had seen all the sophisticated European men walking the night before in a vain attempt to be far more sophisticated and polite than I normally am. I am not ashamed of thinking at the time that Elaine possessed a great “bunda.” Which at the time was the only Portuguese word I knew.
We thoroughly enjoyed the show. Not because the show was good but because it was bad. Elaine, as it turned out, had not only learned English but she had learned a few words I had not learned until I was in college and had an absolutely wicked sense of humor that corresponded to mine exactly. We spent the entire show making fun of the acts, which to be honest, was not hard to do. But our raucous behavior earned Elaine and I a reprimand from her sister and Christina who thought we were being very impolite. But Elaine kept going. I seem to recall her saying something sophisticated like marvelous like “Illegitimus non carborundum” only having to explain that it was GI Latin for “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
The problem with enjoying yourself is that time passes far too quickly. And, far too quickly the show was over. I did not want the evening to end so I renewed my invitation for drinks. Yarra and Christina said they wanted to look at photographs but Elaine, graciously, agreed. We found our way to the Atrium Bar on deck three, at the bottom of the central well of the ship. There was a Brazilian duo playing. The man playing the guitar was short and rotund. The woman beautiful with a figure that would be admired by geometers with long dark hair. Their music was perfect backdrop for conversation: Brazilian standards, bossa nova, and jazz.
We asked our waitress for two Caiparinias and we began to talk. And then we talked some more. Then we talked some more. There was never a moment’s pause in the conversation. There was always something new to say. One of us would always be reminded of another story or joke or situation we had been in. It was as if we were two people who had known each other their whole lives yet had never met and had plenty to get caught up on.
As we talked, I was made more and more aware of how beautiful Elaine was. Her face was a perfect oval with high cheekbones, deep brown eyes, with a sensuous mouth that had an easy smile that was iridescent. But it was more than physical beauty. There was an inner quality as well. I could sense a very gentle soul with inherent kindness and lurking behind a veil of shyness an imp looking for the joy and humor in life.
Several Caipirinhas later, it became evident that the bar was in the process of closing for the night. I signaled for the check. While we were waiting for it to be brought to me Elaine asked what I was doing the following day in Salvador Bahia. I told her that I had not signed up for a tour early enough so I was going to stay on board the ship and write. She said “You don’t need a tour. Christine, Yarra and I can show you around. I have been here many times.”
As we walked to the elevator we made plans to meet the next morning. When her elevator came, I leaned forward to kiss her good night and was presented very quickly with her cheek. I smiled and told her I had a wonderful time this evening and she replied that she did too.
When the elevators doors closed I stood there a moment before I made my way to my stateroom.
The next morning Elaine and I me at the bottom of the gangway. There Costa’s crack photography staff had positioned several models wearing outfits that were supposedly authentic to the middle 19th century in Brazil. Their white dresses hung off their shoulder and hung to their knees and were trimmed with bright floral embroidery around the neckline with a matching belt. On their heads they wore a white turban made of a fine cotton and tied in front. It was here that I first learned of the Brazilian compunction to have photographic evidence of everything. Christina and Yara insisted on having several photographs taken with the models. first by the ship’s photographer, and then by their own cameras
The port building is Salvador Di Bahia is like every port building I had seen in Brazil. A very long narrow one story building with a high roof and a number of small shops inside where un-adventuresome tourist can buy a quick souvenir and then return to the ship. The only thing that made Salvador’s different than the others I had seen was that it was a little longer than the others and of course the “gauntlet
Immediately upon exiting the building we were besieged by street vendors who wanted to sell us something. Most hhad religious ribbons to sell. Bahia is the center of the Candomble religion, a faith that is a mixture of Catholicism and an African religion brought into the country by slaves. Other had t-shirts than they thought we should own. Taxi drivers wanted to show us around. Fruit vendors wanted to make sure that we did not get scurvy. And they followed us around like they were paparazzi and we A list celebrities. I did my best to keep them off of the girls and myself but me telling them to get out of our way and pretending I was a pulling lineman in the NFL but seemed to have little or no effect. It was just more chum for the shark exciting to even larger levels of salesmanship.
The good news was that the minute we cleared the port building they lost interest. Elaine explained to me that normally that they were not so bad; she had been here before, but that my luminescent skin and American accent made them think us easy marks. She said she was hopeful that I kept careful watch over my wallet.
Our first stop was at Mercado Modelo which was just around the corner from the port. It used to be Salvador’s main market where farmers would come and sell their produce, but the growth of the city had changed that. Now it is largely used for vendors who wanted to sell trinkets and local handyworks to tourists. I had had no real interest in going here but Christina and Yara I would soon learn were Olympic class shoppers of tchotchkes and any opportunity to buy a trinket would be worthy of a stop.
The market, despite the early hour, was crowded and Elaine and I followed the girls down one aisle and then another and then they seem to disappear. Elaine asked me if I was interested in buying anything here and I said no. She then said “Let’s go. Places like this are too crazy and too crowded. I do not like places like these. Everything here is shit.” I decided two things at that moment. First, that she said the word shit better than anyone I had ever heard use that particular invective. She and I also shared a dislike for small crowded places. However, on the way out of the market we did stop a number of stalls where some local linens were being sold. Elaine mentioned that Salvador was known for its cotton and linens and that she had bought some here her last time and she loved them. The fabrics she looked at were beautiful, simple, with rich colors and admired her taste.
As we left the market, Elaine explained to me that the city of Salvador was divided into two cities, an upper and a lower. She told me that to get to the upper city you had a number of choices, you could walk which would be arduous and take us through some of the less pleasant parts of town; you could take a taxi which would be expensive or we could take the Lacerda Elevator which is a large public elevator that take citizens and tourists alike up the cliff face to the upper city. She said that she preferred taking the elevator because it was inexpensive, ½ Real, about $.16 and didn’t take long.
We walked the short distance from the market to the elevator and stood in line. And stood, and stood some more and after five minutes or so it became apparent that the line was not moving. Elaine made some inquiries and was told that one of the two elevators was broken so it was only moving at 50% capacity. We were in the process of deciding to take a cab when the line suddenly lurched forward. Apparently they moved whole blocks of people inside the structure to make sure they didn’t get overcrowded and so when the lined moved it really moved. When it came to pay, to my embarrassment Elaine had to pay my way as I had left all my change in my room and the smallest currency I had was 50 Reals.
The elevator ride was blessedly short as it was very crowded and very warm not unlike a New York City Subway car on August day with the air conditioning on the fritz. When we walked out of the elevator building the sun had decided to reappear and the lit the town brilliantly and to me it looked like it belonged in Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.
To the right was a beautifully church like building that looked to have been built in the early 19th century. It was the former town hall turned into a museum of the city. Ornate and white and glowed in the mid-morning sun.
To the right was a a plaza that offered up a fine view of All Saints Bay and the lower city below. The bay was a beautiful aquamarine, with a small marina for pleasure craft in the foreground, a small old fort in the middle distance and further out you could see freighters at anchor. It was beautiful and easy to see why this place had been inhabited by the Portuguese since the early part of the 16th century.
With Elaine leading the way we headed up the street that ran parallel to the cliff. The buildings looked old, and from the colonial period. However, as Elaine explained, that there had been an extensive restoration project. UNESCO had named Salvador, a World Heritage Site, and considerable funds had been spent remaking history. I noticed that many of the buildings had music stores in them and asked her about it. She told me that the city had a nick name “The City of Happiness” because of a rich musical culture much of with an African flavor l as Salvador was the center of the slave trade in Brazil.
Eventually we made our way to a large open square. Elaine explained that this was the site of pillories. Where public punishments would take place in effort to keep the slave population under control. Runaway slaves were often tortured in public or hanged here in effort demonstrate the fate of any who defied authority. She told me that while Brazil did not abolish slavery until the later part of the 19th century that its history with slaves was far “calmer” than in the United States. That there had not been the prejudice that we had towards people of color, but that slavery was largely seen as an economic necessity and that modern Brazil did not have the same racial tension that existed in the US.
As she explained this all to me in her very soft Brazilian accent, I realized that this was a very bright woman. Not many people in the US could give an accurate and well informed description of a city they didn’t live in. She also smiled and laughed a lot and tolerated my endless questions with good will and humor. She had been beautiful from the moment that I had met her but as we walked and talked I realized that this was a woman of substance and style wrapped in a wonderful 5’3” frame.
Off the square we bore right and made our way to the entrance Church of Sao Francisco. She told me that she didn’t believe in this religious “sheet” it was beautiful and that I should see it. It was crowded with vendors forming another mendicant gauntlet outside the entrance Elaine put her head down and pushed through the crowd and I followed in her wake but as I got close to the door I saw a man in a wheel chair. It looked as if his body ended at his waist, yet he legs that pointed away from his body at a 90 degree angle. He held his hand out in supplication. I was completely horrified by his appearance and tried to find a loose real in my pocket to give him but before I could I was pushed into the church. I grabbed Elaine and pulled her back to the door because I wanted to share with her my horror and empathy for this poor man. She was equally aghast and could see that this woman had a heart.
Our walk to the church took us through the convent. Next to the walkways were a series of blue and white tile works that depicted different virtues. Elaine explained that these were for the common people who came to church and who could not read so they learned the values of the bible by what was depicted on tiles While I don’t believe in many of the values of the church I thought these were wonderful because they were so practical my favorite being one that taught the virtue “of being in the middle of the road.” I wanted to take a picture and put it on a tea party website.
The church was dramatically different that the church in Ilheus. It had been simple and elegant. This church’s interior is best described as exuberant. Every surface is covered with“golden sculpted painting and woodworks.” I overheard a tour guide tell their group that this was a near perfect example of Portuguese-Brazilian Baroque Church…a golden church. I didn’t know about that, but it was imposing and beautiful in the way some houses are at Christmas when they go all out with the lights.
We left the church and walked around the town. Not really sightseeing. Not really shopping. Just walking and talking like two friends who had known each other for an exceptionally long time. She was telling me about her teenage years when the country was in the midst of a lot of political turmoil and confided with me at one point she had even been a communist. I don’t know whether she thought I would be shocked but she told me in way that suggested she thought that I would not approve. I think I surprised here when I said “ You know Winston Churchill once said That if you not a liberal when you are you have no heart….” And before I could finish she said “And if you are not a convservative when you are older then you have no brain.” I was very impressed she knew the quote.
Eventually, the heat, which was massive , the humidity which was oppressive and the strain on our feet got the better of us. The elevator lines being too long, w jumped into a cab and headed down the hill. How we came to discuss politics I cannot recall but as we drove through awful slums and she was told me of a former President who had been very rich but also very corrupt but that he kept on getting elected. I asked why and how this could happen and she said to me “We just think a fat rat will eat less than a skinny rat.” I laughed aloud at the common sense and was completely charmed. It made me want to reach out and hold her hand or have some physical contact but not knowing what the rules were in Brazil I resisted. We passed the rest of the trip frustrating her in my inability to pronounce the word Salvador.
At the market we went in search of Christina and Yara but could not find them. We consoled ourselves by having a beer at an open air café at the back of the market. Just as we ordered Christina and Yarra emerged from the end of the market and joined us. They starting speaking in Portuguese but the beer was cold and delicious and they seemed to be enjoying each other’s company so I turned off the conversation and concentrated on the stage at the end of the café. There were a group of young men and boys dressed all in white demonstrating Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines dance and martial arts. Graceful and athletic it is wonderful to watch especially with cold beer and a beautiful women
Eventually, they started passing the hat and one of the older boys came to our table. When I reached for some money Elaine said. “No, don’t give this son of bitches any money. It will only encourage them.” I was charmed because bitches came out beeches and it sounded so much nicer when she said things like than I did. Unfortunately, this produced a controversy between the girls. Christina and Yarra felt we should pay something especially since the guy who was passing us the hat was giving us the evil eye. Eventually Elaine relented and we through something in the hat and the guy walked away with a smirk.
We made our way back to the ship, through the same gauntlet we had passed through on our way into town and past the security at the boats entrance into the safety and blessed air-conditioning of the ship. And there we said good bye. The day before, before I had my Brazilian princesses, I had made an appointment to spend a good part of the afternoon in the spa. It was expensive but it was my birthday and at the time I thought I would be spending it alone. So we said good bye and that we would see each other at dinner. There was no handshake. There was no kiss. Just a wave and a promise to see each other at dinner.
It was on the elevator back to my room that my mind began to churn about the time Elaine and I had spent together that day. She had been a great guide in a city that she had been in many times. I am sure that she had better things, more fun things to do, than to show me around the city. Why was she doing this. Was it a random act of kindness or perhaps she was looking at me in the same way that I was looking at her? I was so attracted to her. She was beautiful. She was sexy and if I stared it her too long certain biological processes happened almost immediately which had not happened to me in many many years. But there was a glow to her as well, I do not mean an aura, a glow. I could tell that she was kind. I could tell that she was smart. But it was something more. Something that I could not my fingerbut I knew I would try to decipher like a codebreaker
My musing and my questioning of myself went through lunch. Surprisingly, since I had been thinking of her, I almost ran into Elaine head on. She looked frustrated and a little angry and told me she was on her way to the pasta station and that her sister and Christina were sitting over on the port side if I wanted to join them. So after grabbing my lunch I walked over and tried to find them but I couldn’t spot them so I sat in a seat facing the sea and watch the sea birds skim over the water and thought of how well Elaine’t shirt had fit that day and how it had perfectly outlined the curve of her breast.
Lunch over, fantasy as yet incomplete, I decided to head to the spa. I had not walked a 100 feet when I ran into Christina and Yara. They asked if I had seen Elaine when I said the last I had seen her was on the other side of the ship at the pasta bar, Yara said “That bitch” and they broke away. I spent the rest of the walk thinking about what the relationship between the sisters must be like and wondering what had happened between the two of them that Elaine would flee and Yara would call her a bitch.
I also wondered if I should have told Elaine that it was my birthday and spent the rest of the walk back to my room thinking about the ways I wanted to celebrate the day.