Bira Almeida, Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form

I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to buy any more books. Rather, I would use the library or would borrow books from other people. I have in the past spent a fair amount of money on books, though never that much compared to what I have spent on restaurants. It’s more a question of space to store books—we don’t have a ton of it—and the fact that I haven’t re-read a book in I don’t know how many years. I get it in my head that I’m going to re-read The Master and Margarita one of these days, but then some new book I haven’t read before steps up and I read it instead.

I’ve read things, then, for which I would not have put down money but which I’ve appreciated. In the case of Capoeira: a Brazilian Art Form, my path to it began with comic book I’ve been reading, Daytripper. It’s top notch. Not to give too much away, but the basic conceit of the series is that the main character dies at the end of every issue. That is, the same person dies, over and over, in differing circumstances. The writer and artist are Brazilian and the whole thing takes place in Brazil. In one issue, the main character and a friend holiday in Bahia. They meet a beautiful woman and the main character strikes up a flirting relationship with her, thinking he will get lucky. Turns out that she is Yemanja, the orixa associated with the sea. He follows her out into the ocean and drowns.

I don’t want to make anything seem more spiritual than it is, but the thought of Yemanja stuck with me, knowing nothing about her, or about candomble generally. What I can say for certain is that I grew up going to the beach, and spent a lot of time in the ocean as a kid. I miss it terribly on occasion, one of two things I ever get nostalgic about. (The other are ice cream trucks.) In any event, I popped on to Wikipedia one day and looked her up. A novel was mentioned in the article: Sea of Death by Jorge Amado, which the article read dealt extensively with Yemanja. I put a hold on the book at the library, and never got a response that it was on hold, despite the fact that the computer showed a copy on the shelf at the Mission branch of the SF Public Library. Frustrated, I popped down to the Mission to get it off the shelf myself.

This is why actually going to the library beats ordering books either from an online retailer or even having holds put on things over the computer. They had at the Mission branch a shelf entitled “Latino Interest” or something like it–a wall actually, quite extensive–and I couldn’t immediately figure out how it was organized. There were clearly like books with like, so it was subdivided somehow, but I couldn’t figure out the logic, and it wasn’t clearly marked. So I ended up going through each subsection and following the alphabet, looking for Sea of Death. One stumbles across all kinds of great things one would never find if one approached things intentionally.

I chose the capoeira book rather than a number of other things partially because it was something I knew absolutely nothing about and partially because the book was relatively short and had pictures. Also, I have as I indicated earlier been reading about the black diaspora for a while and capoeira is an essential part of that process. The book absolutely did not disappoint. One thing that was particularly nice was that it’s clear that Almeida is not a professional writer. The writing was absolutely clear, but at the same time totally without literary conceit. His intent was to put various ideas about capoeira on paper, not write something that made himself look artsy. Each chapter tackles a different aspect of the art, from technique to history to the spiritual dimension of it. Well worth the read.

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