+Stage set with rubber shrine (ball, flip flops around it, other flip flops set in various stepping positions around the stage (see photo)
Every story has its stone. Rosary-like, an object which, when touched recasts the moment, the memory, making its worrier long for the tale once again, only to come up with a marketing tie-in.
Spin ball to instigate a persona transformation, play the ball.
full Flip Flop rattle move investigation
rediscover the area, explore the shoes and begin to bounce ball. Roll ball upstage
Is it in fact possible to think of Carnaval as a medium like TV is a medium, a camera or remote control its object? What would be the object of Carnaval in Bahia, Brazil? Carnaval transmits many messages, seeks a specific audience and appears to be primarily visual, yet it is itself a multimedia event, not a transmission nor a projection, though it is transmitted around the globe during that magical week which precedes Fat Tuesday. Hence, my difficulty in pulling out an object for your objectifying eye.
Pull things out of big blue bag: boa, mask, wallet, beer bottle, remote control, old cell phone, change, thong panties, can opener, pot lid
This is objectionable. Carnaval is not itself without bodies and the bodies in Bahia tend to be a range of browns, bestowed with visual evidence of the regions slaving history. The eye can deceive. Not all brown bodies are worn by corpo-reals who identify through race. A raça in Brazil actually refers to ALL Brasileiros who believe in the concept of racial democracy. Yet the ghosts of slaves past have flesh in the 21st century.
Why am I talking about African-descended people? Oh! Objects. Well, black people are objects. Right? Or is it too grand a leap to go from "objectified" to object? Objectionable?
What is left as an object, when I descend from my head, step back and watch my body and other bodies shaking our collective thang to a samba reggae beat is balance.
Stabilization through footwork, and finally, reducing to the enabling object (yes I'm getting there), the shoe. Or the lack there of. Flip Flops to be precise, carrying the weight of centuries in Bahia.
Singing "People in Your Neighborhood, " but in Portuguese stepping into each set of flip flops and giving a name. Translate at the end
I have a particular fascination with the social construct "neighborhood":
Begin movie 1 playback
moving across shoes, making the gestures that go with each bullet point
in high green shoes
in purple shoes
in pink shoes
in high heel white shoes
in black shoes
in flat green shoes
Body talk, gesturing
Habitual movement, or repetitive movement marks time, shapes space into consciousness, moving over and over and over and over again marking rhythm making meaning undoing the plusperfect into a perpetual now—laying tracks, calling it a neighborhood…
When it's a grand choreography of fluids, social constructs, civic duties, building ordinances and historical erasures.
Cobblestone holding memories of bare feet, blood and rhythm. This foot barely covered, seeking traction against centuries of social malignancy, cultural ambivalence, racial indeterminacy, pulling along some object other than the rest of the body attached to it. Here are our black bodies struggle for definition--graceful, strong, heroic, still a slave. Still a slave. The grand party rolls around again and again. Still a slave, less visible than before each year. The slaves that people trot next to and cry; why, they don't know. The cordão makes it unbearable, that separation from our slaves, from our pasts walking regally down the avenue, too intense on the signification of their skin to be recognized as individual, but knowingly singular. Slaves to the rhythm.
Begin movie 2
Cordão. Thick rope, cordoned off, simultaneously umbilical—a loop to the mysteries of the past, yet marched/danced/trodden over like debris scattered by a passing bus. Urban and mundane, the loop of Salvador's carnival mesmerizes, coming not always at the same time, but marking over the same passages, time and again? No. Timeless. Here repetition demarcates space, a spreading of acts and possibilities. Piedade. Have pity as we pulse in our virtual caul, feet slapping the same stone where drawn and quartered slaves were dragged up to the church to leave their heads for others to ponder. Pietar. 500 years of being broken, yet the cord is strong and the CD glints in the eyes of the beholder, aural erasure of pointy sticks and twisted smiles.
switch from blue flip flops to white ones
Schla, schla, schla. The pace is so slow at times, too many revelers, too much drink, too late an hour, no marshals adds up to a lot of dancing in place. In situ. The body, ever expansive, fills the gaping hole of time, radiating memories for rapid consumption. Some digest well; others create gas, still other stick in the throat. Our fluids rush to our aid. Chorra no pé do caboclo dia 4 de julho. Chorra. Cry, because Bahia is not free. A vagina split open for the dicks of travelers from afar who cannot remember the torrid births and beats produced by this city of seven doors. Seven, seven, all go to heaven. All god's children got shoes.
Slaves couldn't wear shoes.
step out of shoes
"Oh migawd! Those are sooo cool!"
run around collecting high heel flip flops wearing gringa pair and put them into the big blue bag. Decide to organize the rest of the shoes. Put bag down, gringas go into bag, begin to line up the shoes while appraising them.
The flip-flop is a class marker in Bahia. One wears it only to the beach, assuming one has the cash to request a beach hawker to watch one's personal belongings, and other shoes. At least "one" used to.
Begin lining up shoes
Should the flip-flops, or chinelas as they are called (I won't get into the racial markings of the name, just yet), be the primary or sole pair of foot gear, then one would go to the beach barefoot, rather than risk having them stolen. The flip-flop, as contrary as this may seem in our context
Sit down behind row of shoes
here in the US, is the everyman’s working shoe. You will see everyone from maids to gas vendors wearing flip-flops. Sometimes they are actually provided in company colors. Shorts and flip-flops.
take out large rubber bands and empty paper tubes
Pulling a load of bricks, carrying a mound of laundry on the head, hoisting a beam in a high rise. Toes out, gripping, groping for the sanity in the gesture.
Stretch blue theraband across face
At that moment, the very work of remaining shod creates a disaster in the knees:
Bind paper tubing together
straining tendons burn up the shin, burning up into the patella as shin splints, causing a compression of collagen in the joint, drawing the bones dangerously shut. Every so often, a vessel ruptures
from the sheer effort of keeping the foot flipped to flop. Under the extreme weight of trying not to stay hungry, trying to keep out of the rain, a well-muscled arch struggles to find the backbone to keep dancing.
Look through paper tube sculpture
Food and housing are guaranteed rights in the Brazilian constitution.
The laboring black body is the object of the flip-flop. Or is it its mechanism?
After music ends, do an extended exploration of the feet, actual exercises, a back bend, spin out, foot massage.
exploration of the shoes as characters, no talk, no sound, gestural vocab only
I have very flat feet. Duh. Flip-flops are a luxury to me, or a torture. Whenever I wear them, it is impossible to get around silently as any dampness creates a sucking sound between my motion and gravity. Duck feet, I've been told.
I also have very long and slender feet. Navios, boats, my dance buddies in Bahia joke.
I have only twice in my entire life been told that my feet were perfect for something, or just perfect. Once by an Egyptian who kept calling me "Nubia" and a decade plus later by a surfer beach bum type who said I had perfect beach volley ball feet.
These feet of mine make me stand out in Bahia where I watch the flip-flops go by. I wear a 41. Yup. 41. Average size there is about a 34, 36. There are rarely cute shoes left on the rack that fit me. Sensible and plain, larger sizes are usually also wider. In this new global fad of Havaiana, Flo Jos and who knows what else driven by beaded, bejeweled, decorated, cute small flip flops, ranging from 10 to well-over a hundred dollars, I just look unfortunately unstylish. But I should not fear. I can get ergonomically correct flip-flops from Earth Shoes, or flip flops designed specifically for the flat -footed. Sensible and plain. It costs to be fashionable.
I can't help but think about the costs of slipped discs, blown-out knees, and varicosities that plague the working poor of Bahia because the upper class thinks that slaves should not wear shoes.
The Coffee Dance (done while talking)
Slide projection of slippers?
Havaianas are the original, indigenous flip-flop of Brazil. The company traces its history as "affordable laborers shoes." The espadrille, which may have come with Spanish immigrants or Chinese laborers in the early 1900 to the coffee plantations, were the first laboring shoe. In 1962, inspired by the zori, the thronged, hard soled inflexible Japanese Samuri shoe, the company Havaianas set out to make a more durable, more comfortable, yet still cheap product that everyone could afford. And yes, the espadrille, known as alpargatas in Brazil, was considered the shoe of the laborer. The key to the eventual pervasive presence of the Havaiana is the rubber sole and rubber thong. These flip-flops do not wear out, do not pick up odor, and actually have some bounce to them because they are made of natural rubber.
The flip-flop is intimately connected to low wage labor and poor working conditions.
Begin to arrange cat walk pattern
The "shoe" of the poor out of the home and at work, the "sandal" of the middle class at the beach, and the "slipper" in the homes of the middle to upper-class, Havaianas suffered as the economy suffered in Brazil, tied as it was to low wage labor and leisure.
The word "chinela" is a classic Baianidade, using the Spanish word "chinelo” which means slipper, in its female form to indicate any shoe that the foot slides in, but particularly flip-flops. Frequently Spanish words turn up as slang in Portuguese, part of the large Spanish immigrant community in Bahia and also remnants of the various border wars fought by African descended people on behalf of the planters' class. In reality, many of these wars were fomented as a means to eradicate the native populations and greatly diminish the African presence in the major cities, especially Bahia. Vagrants were abducted right off the street, particularly during the various emancipation schemes in the 1880s and sent off to fight. How was it determined if they were vagrants? Their shoes, or rather lack there of. Vagrant just means ex-slave with nowhere to go and no means of getting there anyway.
Start dancing again
The company Havainas, traces itself through the espadrille, but this is a particularly, non-Baiano trajectory for pedestrian history. In Bahia, there is a long tradition of leather workers who are descendants of one of the most notorious slave rebellions of the 17th century. A Revolta das Alfaetes, The Tailor's Rebellion, is a particularly "shoddy" event, as these men mostly, were not truly haberdashers, but shoe makers, more precisely, Arabic slipper makers. Speakers of Arabic and readers of the Koran, these artisans conspired to liberate all slaves in the city of Salvador while they fashioned chinelos for the very feet of the bodies whose heads they would later attempt to take.
Move to the podium
The secret to Havaianas' success is in the vulcanization.
Were it not for 70,000 hijacked seeds, the rubber of these famous flip-flops would most likely all come from Brazil. Maybe it does. It is hard to tell from the public non-investor materials of the parent company, São Paulo Alpargatas S.A.
Rubber was at one point solely a natural product. Collected from the hevea brasiliensis tree, one excruciating hack at a time, latex (the white sticky fluid that oozes from these trees between the bark and wood) was one of the primary exports of Brazil in the nineteenth century. In fact, the country dominated the global market until the mid-1880s, result of one industrious industrial spy by the name of Henry Wickham.
Brazil's reign came to an end when Mr. Wickham smuggled 70,000 seeds from Brazil to England in 1876 where they were sprouted and studied in the Royal Botanical Garden and then sent to Ceylon (now Malaysia) and Thailand.
Roll away a bunch of small rubberballs
Pick up theraband
Because there was never actually cultivation of hevea brasiliensis per se in Brazil—tappers found groves of the tree in the wild and collected what they could, hurriedly due to rainy season and tree-killing fungus—Great Britain soon wrested the rubber market from the Brazilian government, ironically, at about the same time that Brazil finally abolished slavery, in 1888 (trees take about 7 – 8 years to mature enough to produce latex).
Under study, a new approach to collection revealed itself from the hevea brasiliensis. Rather than gouge deep into the tree, the British devised a Y incision that was rather superficial. This actually increased the amount of latex one tree could produce during its lifetime as the core of the trunk was not injured. Sap does not produce latex.
Today, only 96 thousand tons of Brazil's 239 thousand tons of consumed rubber is actually grown, extracted, and processed in Brazil, though the Natural Soluções Setorías projects the national demand to be met within the next few years.
Collecting latex from hevea brasiliensis in the Amazon was the work of indentured laborers.
Not unlike the cotton industry in the US post-abolition, workers were tied to the land where the trees were located by rigged contracts and company stores run by the land owners. Once collected from the tree, the latex, or cup lump, had ammonia added to it and was later smoked and made into balls and shipped down the river to Manaus where it was then further heated, or vulcanized into sheets to better withstand the journey from Brazil around the world. Interestingly, here the name Goodyear enters the picture, developing a better vulcanizing process which made rubber withstand higher heat temperatures.
Get on ball
Anyone wanna go for a ride? Bouncy tires, smoother rides, softer treading for laborers, sheathed penises and sterile hands…rubber rubber rubber everywhere.
Pick up pair of Havianas to use as axes
Always a transnational endeavor, the rubber flip-flop was created by a company founded by a Scotsman and a couple of English laddies living it up in São Paulo at the turn of the 20th century and the raw materials were extracted by African and Aboriginal descended indentured laborers, later, Southeast Asian colonial subjects.
The flop of the sole is an object of transnational capitalistic desire, an echo of the machete, accidentally slamming into the soul of a just-freed corpo-real.
Go upstage and change clothes, put out high heel flip flops, extra clothes swap.
Runaway Rubber Cat Walk Dance
"model" all the high flip flops except havaiana
walk like on a runway, strobe light
Flip-flops are now ubiquitous, not only among the lower classes, but now in the higher echelons of Brazilian society. Getting a grip has become fashionable.
Havaianas, watching its market share plummet due to cheap artificial rubber knock-offs flooding the market, devised a way to get back into the thick of things. Their first venture off the traditional flip flop path (thong colored, bottom either white or black) was to imitate the way surfers inverted flip flops so that the thong and the bottom colors were on the same side, making the shoe stay on during a ride (!). A cool called "Tops."
Moving the flip-flop from its humble beginnings into runway fashion proved to be more simple than the company expected:
NO MORE LABORING!! Dark bodies, that is.
Surfing, as sport and leisure, though practiced by every type of colored body in Brazil, is shown on television as a primarily white American, as in USA, endeavor. Wearing a flip-flop is a modernizing turn, a privatization of pedestrian as flaneur, dabbler, collector.
Change clothes, Rearrange objects on stage,
Quickly move the shoes around into dancing couples
flip flop rattle
Chililique. Chililique. Portuguese onomatopoetic, at least for the Nordestino. Forro music, the Sertenejo answer to the square dance, is famous for its fast rhythm and wit. All those flippity flopping feet keeping up with the zabumba, overtaking the place of the tambour inside the music snagged ears of composers and ethnomusicologists alike. The rhythmic remnant of the act of dancing in flip-flops has created new formations in the phrasing of the forro lyric. Usually a 7 syllabic conjuration, an even 6 line is required when singing from "a base da chinela."
A modernizing moment, almost as momentous as discovering that drums should be miked from their heads, not from inside their bodies, the sound of rubber against skin against dusty tile is generated by an object, not some grand narrative. But the material, the rubber, so banal, so common, that its subtleties almost go unnoticed, still tells tales.
The grace and slide of suingue, a samba-derivative born in Bahia, perhaps is only possible by a foot trying to keep its traction on the cobblestone of this history. The rubber shod foot travels in place, grinding out possibilities in the hybrid sound of music with beats from across Jamaica, USA, Congo and home, which is always all those places anyway. Slippery. But the sure-footed survive.
Forro Fake Out Dance
collect shoes, put them back out, mixmatched, while dancing,
Chillilique, a code slapped out in pleasure, kicking up dust,
glistening with the salty elixir of syncopation, one beat at a time.
turn to walk off
Frank, Zephyr and Aldo Musacchio. "The International Natural Rubber Market, 1870-1930". EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. December 19, 2002. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/frank.international.rubber.market Accessed November 20, 2005.