Chapter Sixteen

The Canaries and First Trip to Brazil


Las Palmas was a real tourist island and we soon found a nice beach where we parked our trailer. Anna and Cindy went off in search of a small hotel where they could stay. In the centre of the town was a beautiful tree lined park called Santa Catarina. The local government charged a small rental to allow artists and craftsmen to sell their wares to the tourists. It wasn’t many days before Charly and I had a good pitch. Our jewellery was unique so as we were not competing with any of the others. We were accepted and made many friends and learned many new crafts.

At night we would always go to the Saxo, a tourist nightclub; later to return to our caravan with a couple of different Swedish girls but I was always looking up at the sky and watching for the plane that was going to bring Neride back. One day I received a message from a tourist, telling me that Neride was coming within a few days. For the next few days I met every plane that came in from Brazil until she eventually arrived. By then I had learned to speak quite a lot of Spanish and she had taken a crash course in English and so we could now communicate with each other verbally without having to have Charly interpret for us.

Neride had brought me an airline ticket to return with her to visit her home in Brazil. Charly thought it was a wonderful idea for me to go and check it out. His compulsory army call-up was due at the end of the following year and he was looking for alternatives just in case there was a war. The other guys in the park also wanted me to go so that they would also know the possibilities for working there after the tourist season finished in Las Palmas. I wanted to go and would have, even if everybody had decided to the contrary.

I wanted to take jewellery stock with me but Neride told me that the customs men in Brazil were very hot because, as she put it, they were corrupt. They wanted to find things wrong so that they could personally get rich by confiscating whatever they could lay their hands on. The import duty for luxury items was 300% and one had to apply for an import licence months in advance. I came up with a plan to smuggle 2,000 puzzle rings into Brazil. For the next few days, I stitched open puzzle rings onto my heavy denim shirt and jeans. I took eight piece, four piece and two piece rings. When these rings were opened they made a jingling sound just like a little bell. As I attached them to my clothes, I made a simple but effective design. When I had finished, I tried on the by now extremely heavy clothes. The effect was just as I anticipated; I looked as if I was dressed in some sort of mediaeval armour.

I put my metal clothes into my hand baggage and was ready for Brazil. I said my goodbyes to my friends and we caught the plane. The eight hour flight soon passed and as we approached Rio de Janiero I went to the toilet and changed into my ring suit. The customs men were astounded, as was everybody else, by my get up. When they asked why I was dressed like that, I said that I was the metal man going to their carnival. They laughed and I passed with my first Brazilian import.

Neride’s apartment was on the ninth floor of a skyscraper overlooking one of the busiest roads in São Paulo. At night I could watch the numerous prostitutes and transvestites plying their trade. Neride lived with her son, Nelson, who was eight years old. His father had disappeared when he was still a baby so he had been brought up by Neride and her maid, Teresinha. Neride used to work at night and so the maid took care of him most of the time. I got to know them whilst sitting around the kitchen table all sharing the task of re-assembling the puzzle rings.

Neride showed me around the nightclubs where she used to work as a hostess. Most of her friends were involved in the nightclub business so I soon began to understand the São Paulo  scene. Most of Neride’s friends lived in a building that was shaped like a horseshoe and was known locally as Treme - Treme. This was because the building ‘trembled’ to the raucous rhythm of many bodies shagging in harmonious ecstasy. This building housed 3000 prostitutes who bought waterbeds from us that Barry Williams and I produced. Unfortunately, when the annual carnival arrived and all the foreign tourists arrived, the girls did their business without removing their high heel shoes. Consequently the water beds burst almost all at the same time as the samba music reached its crescendo. The water poured down the lift shafts causing electrical short circuits and a light show like no one had ever seen before. The building lived up to its name as lived up to its reputation and it truly trembled.

In the same apartment building lived a musical group called Rita Lee and the Mutants. They were good friends of Neride and their manager was also an Englishman and so we soon became good friends. It was this friendship that gave me an insight into Brazil and the developing fashion fads. The group were due to do a tour of the North of Brazil and so Neride and I decided to join them. We sold some puzzle rings and bought a Volkswagen van which I hurriedly converted into a mobile home. I bought some hoof nails, as they called them in Brazil, and we set off. The trip was to take us to the island of Itaparica off the bay of Bahia.

Bahia is the acclaimed best Northern place for music, feeling, atmosphere and the African, mixed Indian religions called by various names:- Mocamba, Umbanda and Creole. Bahia was for me more like little Africa; so many mixed races of blacks mixed with Indian. One would often see the display of Capoeira in the streets. Capoeira is a Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, sports, and music. It was created in Brazil mainly by descendants of African slaves with Brazilian native influences, probably beginning in the 16th century. It is known for quick and complex moves, using mainly power kicks and quick leg sweeps, with some ground and aerial acrobatics, knee strikes, take-downs, elbow strikes, punches and head butts. The word Capoeira comes from the Tupi language, referring to the areas of low vegetation in the Brazilian interior. During the dance a musical instrument called a berimbao is played

Itaparica was just across the bay. We took over two weeks to arrive and the trip took us through so many changing worlds that we wished that we did not have to hurry for fear of missing something. However, hurry we did and arrived to the hustle and bustle of an African Indian city; then across the bay by ferry to the island. Rita Lee and the boys were already there staying in a palm-festooned house, the house of Magnolia. We stayed there for a couple of weeks and each day we would accompany the group to their shows usually in open air theatres. I would usually set up my pitch in front of the stage so that I could watch the show as I made and sold my goods. My first visit to Brazil was great fun and as I returned to Las Palmas, I knew that I would return after the next festival season in Europe.