Chapter Nineteen

 “Freedom”

 

Neride, Nelson & I caught the plane and once again I had no problem entering Brazil dressed in my ‘Metalman’ outfit. Neride carried the beads in her hand luggage and she didn’t have any problems either, telling them that they were religious items. I spent the first few weeks adjusting to my new way of life. I was trying to learn the language and getting to know the people and their customs.

My stuff arrived at Santos port. Neride and I went to collect it in my new Volkswagen van. The general atmosphere of the customs house was one of corruption. Neride told me not to say anything as she was going to use her female charms to get my things released and if that didn’t work she said that she would use Jeitinho or Jeito meaning the knack or skill or the way things are done. What she actually meant in a nice way of saying, was that she would bribe them with money. I was soon to learn that almost everything in Brazil required Jeito or Jeitinho.

The customs man opened my large box to find tools, books, used clothes and about 100 kilos of old glass beads. He asked me what they were and I told him that they were antique broken beads and as they were antique, no duty had to be paid on them. I had been told by the Brazilian Consul in London that antiques were free of duty. He ignored my answer and turning to Neride, he said that he would have to keep the beads to be analysed to see if they really were antiques. When Neride told me this, I replied that it would be stupid to leave them and to ask how much he would accept to let them go.

The customs man only heard the word ‘stupid’ and understood that I was telling Neride that he was stupid. He called the police and had me arrested for insulting him and the policeman took me to a detention room. Several hours later the customs man opened the door with a big smile on his face and said to me ‘No problem, you can go now’. I rejoined Neride. The boxes had been loaded into our van and I slid in behind the wheel and drove away. Once on the open road, Neride explained that she had been to lunch with the customs man and that he was now her friend. She had a way with men that no other woman I know has.

On the way back over the mountains to São Paulo she told me that one of her friends owned a book distribution business and he had arranged a two year work contract for me and therefore I had a visa. This meant that after the two years was up, I could exchange it for a permanent visa and so I would have no immigration problems.

Neride owned a small bookshop in a good area of town but as it was not even making enough to keep it going after she paid someone to look after it, she would have to put some of her own money in. She did not know what to do with the shop and I suggested that we open a boutique. I then quickly changed my mind. I was quite successful at working outside the system so why enter it now? As the weeks passed by I began to see the Brazilian mentality. Items sold on the streets would only normally be bought by maids or poor people but in a classy looking shop one could sell any junk at exorbitant prices. Neride and I agreed to open a boutique, she would sell clothes, bags, belts and shoes; I would sell jewellery, posters and decorative items. Each of us would have our own separate business, but the shop rent, maintenance and conversions would be a joint expense. This way of working together left each one of us independent; a situation which both Neride and I needed.

Our merchandise would also benefit by its variation and quality. There would be less confusion and more specialities. We would import most of our stock from various parts of the world. Neride would also import exotic materials and make up the dresses into the latest fashions in Brazil. I knew most of the suppliers of Indian, Afghan, Thai and various other countries clothing and so I could really help her. She also knew ways to handle the problematic customs officials. I planned to copy most of the European jewellery designs in Brazil plus import ready-made oriental goods.

I set about ripping the shelves out of the bookshop on Saturday afternoon. On the Monday morning the boutique “Freedom” was opened. Our only two lines were Goulamine beads and puzzle rings but business was brisk. The word soon spread around about the long-haired English tattooed man’s shop, and that night I phoned my friend Ken to tell him to bring us more stock from Cassy. A few days later Ken arrived with two huge suitcases containing elephant-hair bracelets, incense, posters, rings, bags and bells plus a whole new range of lead items like pipes, roach holders, essential oils and about 10 different boxes of fruit-flavoured cigarette papers. The customs men were paid by the weight of the cases – a normal transaction. They didn’t even enquire as to what the cases contained.

The next day, the goods were in the shop and the word spread. The customers were amazed at the smoking paraphernalia. Up till then, the police in Brazil had not even allowed cigarette papers to be sold in public. The ‘roll your own’ smokers had always used palm leaves, and now there was a shop that actually sold tailor-made fruit flavoured papers and other such items it was a breakthrough to ‘Freedom’. The people loved the shop and Neride used her guiles to keep it open.

Cassy was sending us 10 boxes of new lines each week and friends were flying in and out with suitcases. Ships were arriving regularly with container loads of goods. The business was booming. I had ten people assembling jewellery for me and Neride had her own clothing workshop transforming saris into elegant evening dresses to suit the local tastes and copying Indian blouses by the score. We began wholesaling our successful items to other boutiques throughout the country. From morning till night we had a steady queue of customers waiting to enter the shop which by now looked more like a Moroccan bazaar than a boutique in São Paulo.

We soon took over the next two buildings and enlarged our goldmine. We covered the front of the buildings with gold leaf paintings of Indian deities, and set thousands of sparkling glass jewellery stones in the designs. I was flying to England every couple of weeks to pay my bills and keep the latest stocks rolling in.

The Brazilian currency, the Cruzeiro, had no value outside Brazil and so we had to buy U.S. dollars on the black market. We usually had to pay 50% more than the official value but considering that our customers judged the beauty of the items that they bought by the high prices that they paid, we were making up to 100% profit. At first I tried to be more honest and sell things as if I had paid the 300% import duty and added my small profit. Some of the customers I noticed would not buy, because they thought that the goods were too cheap and therefore, in their limited experience, no good. I doubled my prices and the goods flew out the door as the money flew in. Nevertheless I was looking for a line to take to England instead of cash. The money black-marketiers were wagging their tongues into the ears of the corrupt controllers and consequently we were having to pay more and more bribe money to continue to grow. The more dollars that we bought the more we paid.

Natural products were the first materials that jewellery makers used and so I arranged to have Brazilian semi-precious stones carved into popular chains, hearts, elephants, lockets zodiac signs etc. I also thought that the time was ripe for animal tooth jewellery to become fashionable. Ivory jewellery was very rare and expensive. I made a visit to the local slaughterhouse and bought 10,000 pigs’ teeth of varying sizes from 1 inch to 5 inches in length. The Brazilian pig [Javali] is bred in the wild and is known outside Brazil as a peccary or wild boar. The teeth resemble in shape an elephant’s tusk. I also bought a large quantity of boiled horse teeth.

On returning to ‘Freedom’ I showed them to Ken and told him of my plan to create a new fashion in Europe. I asked him if he wanted to be my partner but he surprised me by saying that he was already doing a deal to buy quantities of cocaine. I tried to dissuade him by telling him that there was much more profit in the jewellery with less risk but he replied that he wanted to be a millionaire within a year. I immediately became afraid for my old pal and tried to talk him out of it.

That weekend, Neride, Ken and I decided to go and camp on a deserted beach. I scored three tabs of acid, thinking it would help me to persuade Ken not to get involved in coke. We set off in the ‘Volksvan’ for the three-hour drive to the beach that Neride knew. The beach was a mile from the highway down a jungle lane. Ken and I were filled with excitement; it was the first time that either of us had been in a real jungle. We arrived at the beach just as the sun was going down on the horizon. We drove down the beach to a high waterfall with a small natural rock pool in front emptying into a river that ran to the sea. The place seemed to be filled with magic; a picture-book landscape more beautiful than I had seen before in reality. Ken immediately put the kettle on for a cup of tea to wash down our acid trips. The tea went down a treat.

As we waited for the acid to work, we blew up the ever-faithful igloo and laid out our beds. Darkness crept upon us, the wind died down and stillness arrived. Then the orchestra came alive, the frogs, I believe were the main instruments accompanied by the shrill screams of the monkeys, high-pitched squeaking of bats and then the hoots of maybe owls. The mosquitoes gave their constant direction changing buzzing sounds. A small moon smiled down a beam just enough to turn the cascading waters of the falls into an ever changing light show.

Neride was afraid and sought refuge in the igloo. I followed and tried to comfort her but she said that she preferred to be alone; to feel and maybe discover some hidden secrets within her. I understood, acid can be a very personal thing. Ken and I went discovering. As we climbed up the jungle side of the waterfall, warily watching and listening, we heard a baby crying above us at the top of the downpour.

I said “Did you hear that?”

Ken replied “Yeah.”

I said “It was a baby.”

Ken replied “Yeah.”

I said “Shall we go and see?”

Ken replied “Yeah.”

And so we continued up and as we reached the top, the moon was covered by the cloud. We were terrified. Then again the baby’s cries now just a few feet away from us. We dropped down on our hands and knees and began to crawl through the shallow waters of the river. The moon came out again to reveal a group of black people about six feet in front of us. All of them were naked from the waist up and were wearing bead necklaces. As they were standing waist-deep in the water, we could not see whether they wore covering for their private parts. One man nearest to us was holding a baby suspended in the flowing waters. They stared at us but said nothing and so we returned from whence we had come. On our way back down, we stopped to discuss what we had just seen. In our state of mind we could not understand which - baby sacrifice or baptism!

We saw lights in the distance; a long straight line of flickering lights. We sat and watched as the lights and now the sound of tom-tom drums came closer and closer until we could distinguish, with the aid of the fire torches, people. As they came closer we saw that there were 30 people of all colours and ages. They were led by an old white woman who I imagined to be well into her eighties. She was wearing a long white dress and lots and lots of bead necklaces around her neck. In her mouth she had a pipe. Behind her was an old black man also dressed in white with bead necklaces.

The rest of the people were chanting. Some were barking like dogs, many were limping as if dragging a ball and chain behind them. Two women I saw were crying like babies. A couple of others were totally contorted as if they had been twisted out of shape. As they came closer, I saw some of them carrying arms and others legs or feet which were totally detached from their own bodies. Ken and I had the horrors. I think that we would have run into the jungle to seek refuge if we had not left Neride in the igloo down below

The last people arrived carrying large drums, beating on them with bare hands in a frenzied way. They formed a circle. The old woman came forward followed by the black man and the two leg-draggers. The drums increased as the remainder, excluding the dogs and babies, began to sway and chant. Some of them lit up big black cigars and smoked nonstop, puff after puff. The old man and woman walked into the water and across the shallow pool to disappear below us into the waterfall. I heard a high-pitched scream. Four other people ran forward and out of sight. Then as they came back into view, I saw the old woman, now naked of her many necklaces, in convulsions as if she was receiving a high voltage electric shock. The others helped her back to the beach and sat her down and then one by one, they also entered the water. We sat spellbound, afraid to rejoin Neride but able to see that she was still safe in the igloo.

A few hours passed before the people below left. They left as they arrived, the beating drums and flickering flames disappearing into the night. Neride was awake and sitting huddled up, arms around her knees, she was petrified. Ken made some hot tea and we all ate orange slices to nullify the trip. Orange acts as an antidote to Lysergic Acid. We all sat till dawn arrived, saying nothing. The morning brought the tourists and we sat watching them play ball around us. We just sat saying nothing to each other or to anyone else. By mid morning, the sun had become too hot and so Neride first split for the coolness of the waterfall. Ken split for a swim in the sea and I crashed in the igloo for a nap. We were disintegrated.

I fell asleep to be woken up by Neride with a hot cup of tea. She wanted to return to the city. We packed up the igloo and started the return journey. On the way back, Neride told us that we had just seen the Macumbeiros, followers of a religious cult known as Macumba. Their main spirit, “Yemanja” the mermaid, goddess of the water, would give them strength and cure all their illnesses. The ones that we saw acting strangely were apparently inhabited by spirits of past lives. The arms, legs and feet that we saw them carrying were only copies made by them to represent a part of their body which required help. She went on to tell us that her own mother was a high priestess in the cult and how as a child, her mother would take her to their meetings. She concluded by telling us that she was very much afraid because sometimes they went crazy and did horrible things

As we approached São Paulo , I brought up the subject of cocaine but Ken was adamant that he was going to do a run to England the following week and so I had to tell him that I wanted him to move out of our flat the next day. He understood and the following day he left for Rio.

I got busy with my teeth. The horse teeth I drilled out and strung onto hand spun cotton thread with 14 teeth to a necklace. The Javali tusks, as I now called the pigs’ teeth, I had capped with a silver top and ring. The remainder we made into bracelets, three teeth to each. Whilst my workers were getting the teeth ready, I decided to take some stock to Rio and open up some new wholesale outlets. At the same time I could find out if there was any news on Ken.

I was selling some goods to the Indian shop in Rio when the police arrived. It was evening and the owner of the Indian shop had purposely kept me showing him my stuff over and over again. He had obviously been the one to have called the cops. I was in his city and he was the wholesaler and I was about to step on his toes if I sold my stuff to other shops. He did not need to buy from me; he had his own similar ways of getting the goods. The police took me and the van to a deserted place on a beach. They then put a gun to my stomach and asked me if I was generous. I said “Yes of course. I am. In fact I am so generous that I want to give you all my beautiful jewellery”. They unloaded my van into their paddy wagon and then they gave me back a packet of incense and told me to go with God and never again try to sell jewellery in their state. I got the message. The next time I would pay their Chief in advance.

That night I found out through some musician friends, where Ken was staying. The next day I went to visit him. He was in the process of packing his bags; his plane was due to leave later that day. I sat on the edge of the bed as I watched him pack two half-pound plastic bags of coke into each of his new cowboy boots. He was wired; his nose a bright red. He had obviously smoked a good deal of the stuff himself. I tried once more to talk him out of it but he would not even listen to me. I said good luck to him and made my way to the beach as he sped away in a taxi heading for the airport. It was 11:30am and his plane was due to leave at 1:00pm

I lay down to take the sun and enjoy a day of leisure. At 4:30pm Ken arrived on the beach. He was carrying his suitcase and wearing his heavy cowboy boots and a leather jacket. Sweat was pouring from him and he was speaking gibberish; talking so fast that I could hardly understand him. The plane had been delayed and he had been waiting in the departure lounge. The nervous perspiration was trickling down his legs and into his new tight coke cushioned boots. The perspiration had caused the coke to liquefy and he was obviously not only walking on ice but absorbing the potent liquid through his pores. I took him to the van so that he could get his boots off but his feet were so swollen that I had to cut them off. Then I took him to an hotel and left him with the remains of his boots. He was still determined to get the following flight.

I returned to São Paulo  to prepare for my trip to England. 1,000 teeth necklaces were ready as well as 5,000 Javali tusk pendants and 2,000 bracelets. I declared the teeth necklaces as personal decoration items saying that I was going to open a restaurant in England called ‘Teeth’. They asked me the value and I told them £100. I paid £10 duty and another £50 duty on the Javali tusks and smuggled the semi-precious stones in my specially made jeans with secret pockets.