Neighborhoods of Salvador: Carmo and Santo Antônio além do Carmo

Dorival Caymmi's house in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
Dorival Caymmi lived in the yellow house, upper level, on the Ladeira do Carmo (No. 35) as a kid in the 1920s

Carmo is the Salvador neighborhood immediately to the north of the Largo do Pelourinho, stretching from Pelourinho to the Cruz do Pascoal, which marks the beginning the the neighborhood Santo Antônio além do Carmo (além is beyond in Portuguese).

Oratório Pascoal
Oratório da Cruz do Pascoal

The Cruz do Pascoal (it’s a location; the literal meaning is Easter Cross) is marked by an oratório, kind of a tile-covered obelisk with the statue in a glass box at the top. The oratório was built as an act of devotion by Portuguese Pascoal Marques de Almeida in 1743. The statue is of Nossa Senhora do Pilar, one representation of the Virgin Mary; it was only replaced recently, having been stolen unknown years ago (who’d steal a statue of the Virgin Mary??? But then thinking about it, stealing and selling church artifacts is big business. I guess nothing is sacred!).

Igreja do Passo in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
The Igreja do Paço rises above the neighborhood of Carmo. The church underwent a cleaning since this photo was taken, but I preferred the brooding eminence it had acquired over the centuries.

The steps leading up to the igreja (church) from the Ladeira do Carmo (a ladeira is a sloping street; think “ladder”) were the principal setting for a wonderful film, O Pagador de Promessa (“The Payer of the Promise”, literally; to pay a promise is to perform an act promised to God if some desired something-or-other comes to pass). The film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes in 1962. It was based in a play produced at the Teatro Castro Alves, in Salvador. A very brief synopsis is that Zé Burro’s donkey (who was also his best friend) was hit by a branch falling from a tree during a storm. Trying everything and anything to help his friend, Zé visits a terreiro de candomblé, devoted to Iansã, to get the advice of a mãe-de-santo. When her advice finally stanches the donkey’s bleeding, Zé makes a promise that he will carry a life-sized cross from his village to Salvador and into the Igreja de Santa Bárbara (actually our Igreja do Paço). Things get very complicated when the presiding prelate asks Zé why he wants to carry the cross into this particular church, Zé telling his story and explaining that as Iansã is Santa Bárbara, it’s only logical that he should carry the cross into Santa Bárbara’s church. Whereupon the priest erupts, saying that Zé made his promise to a pagan god! Zé will never enter with the cross! So Zé is stuck on the steps with his promise and much ensues. In the end Zé does enter the church. Not carrying the cross, but upon it.

Escadaria do Passo
The escadaria (stairway) do Paço, with Zé Burro, his cross, and his suffering wife.

Most of the film is set during the Festa de Santa Bárbara/Iansã, which occurs every December 4th around the area where these steps are located.

A scene from the film, above…set during the Festa. The street continues on from the Oratório and you are in Santo Antônio proper. Many lovely houses, some interesting restaurants, a nice vibe…Santo Antônio is experiencing something of a renaissance.

Casa Rosa in Santo Antônio, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
A house in Santo Antônio além do Carmo

And of course there’s music history here. Xisto Bahia was a resident of Santo Antônio. It was he who wrote the first song ever recorded in Brazil: Isto é Bom (This is Good), a lundu (related to samba, or if you ask Edil Pacheco, it is a samba) recorded in 1902 and sung by Manoel Pedro dos Santos (born in Santo Amaro, Bahia and popularly known by his nickname Bahiano).

Composer João de Barro was a resident of Santo Antônio. He discovered a young woman in Rio, who would sing as she sewed hats in the millinery shop where she worked, leaving men sighing over the balcony. The young woman, Carmen Miranda, would become Brazil’s biggest star of the time.

And as things go, she would have much to do with the rapid rise to fame of Dorival Caymmi, who had lived on the Ladeira do Carmo. Carmen was to play the role of a baiana (woman from Bahia) in a film called Banana da Terra, and the film’s producers had made arrangements for the use of Bahia-themed music by now-established songwriter Ary Barroso (the beautiful No Tabuleiro da Baiana). When about to finalize the deal for rights to the song Ary demanded double his already informally agreed-upon price. Whereupon somebody remembered the kid from Bahia. Dorival just happened to have a song which fit perfectly: O Que é Que a Baiana Tem (What Is It That a Baiana Has). He was hustled into a car and taken to meet Carmen, starstruck, and sang the song for her. Deal closed! Carmen insisted on going to the studio and recording it right there and then! In the film Carmen sang the song in question in a mockup of Pelourinho. (And ironically it was this song that Carmen was singing onstage in a casino in Rio when Lee Shubert of the famous Shubert theatrical family, in the audience, made the decision to get her to America. She would eventually sing and act in a number of Hollywood films, including with the Marx Brothers.)

Carmen Miranda in Pelourinho, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Pelourinho on a soundstage

The far end of Santo Anônio (away from Pelourinho) is formed by the Largo do Santo Antônio, a public square generally filled in the evenings with playing kids and people hanging out and conversing. A fort, the Forte de Santo Antônio stands at the northwest side of the square, and a church, the Igreja de Santo Antônio, at the northeast. Yeah another church. They’re everywhere. The good thing about this one is the great samba that takes place (almost) every last Friday of the month, behind the church, with beer sold by the presiding priest. The rundown fort was rebuilt and reopened in 2006 as a center devoted to capoeira. Capoeira angola specifically. Mestre Cúrio is there. And Mestre Boca Rica. And Mestre Moraes (who working on his PhD and must have it by now; I joked to him that people will have to call him “Mestre Doutor”).