Pelourinho’s Vaunted Tuesday Night Party is a Wan Shadow of Its Former Self

Vastly extolled in guidebooks on or including Brazil is terça-feira da benção, the amazing Tuesday night party in Pelourinho, Salvador’s Centro Histórico. People are constantly showing up here (our specialty record shop — samba et al — is located in the Centro Histórico), having prepped themselves (mentally; nobody dresses up for a street party in Salvador) for a spectacular evening in this iconically musical city.

And it ain’t happening. Oh there might be people around, particularly as things begin to heat up during the months approaching Carnival, but it’s nothing like the roaring ’80s and ’90s and the earliest years of our own 21st century.

Benção is “blessing”. It has long been traditional for the Igreja (Church) de Santo Antônio on the Largo do Cruzeiro in the old town to hand out bread to the poor after Tuesday evening Mass. For this, Tuesday nights were referred to as terça-feira da benção…Tuesday of the Blessing.

In 1982 Salvador’s central city bus station Lapa opened. Before this the great Grand Central Station of Salvador city buses had been Praça da Sé, in the Centro Histórico. The removal of numerous bus lines ending at Praça da Sé was another long, loud dong in the extended death knell of an area which was nothing less than the original city of Salvador, a place of exquisite architectural beauty though down at the heels and worse for centuries of wear…an enchanted Lisbon raised in the rain forest of Brazil…then slowly abandoned by the haves, and then the have-somethings.

In 1983 Clarindo Silva of Cantina da Lua on the Terreiro de Jesus decided to do something to stanch the flow (Clarindo had acquired Cantina da Lua, originally established in 1945, in 1971; he’s still there today; as a matter of fact he’s there right now as I type this; I think I’m gonna run over there and take his picture!…………………..okay, result below):

Clarindo Silva, Cantina da Lua, Salvador, Bahia
Clarindo Silva in front of Cantina da Lua

It was Clarindo who turned Tuesday nights into what was almost certainly the grandest weekly neighborhood party on the planet. He talked Olodum — then at the top of their game, although the Paul Simon/Michael Jackson stuff was some years in the future — into playing for free at the top of the Largo do Pelourinho. He talked business owners across the board into staying open later, light shining from doorways, illuminating the streets.

And given Salvador’s inertial propensity for festas, the project took off madly. Sucesso total! On Tuesday nights Pelourinho’s cobbled streets thronged with thousands of soteropolitanos (Salvador residents). My own first night in Pelourinho was a balmy Tuesday in April of 1992. The place buzzed and crackled with energy, like all was infused with an undulating potential charge. Surely this was Salvador’s French Quarter, neglected and abandoned by municipal authorities unlike New Orleans’ Historic District, but primed and pumping with Bahian people power nevertheless.

Then beginning in 1994 state governor Antônio Carlos Magalhães rebuilt the Centro Histórico. Criticism has been leveled — much of it justly — at aspects of this restoration. But in any case Pelourinho did in fact begin to function in Salvador as the French Quarter functions in New Orleans. It became a place where both residents and visitors could easily find top-flight music, places to dance, restaurants of all levels…where they could sit outside over cold beers (it was/is usually the tourists who drink caipirinhas) and watch the world according to Bahia parade by on any number of streets. Every night. Totally safe and secure (the police kept it so), subject only to minor irritations like pushy peanut vendors roaming the tables.

ACM (Antônio Carlos Magalhães), a man who was above the law in Bahia, was not above those promulgated in a place more illustrious than the state assembly, and he died in 2007. A powerful politician took this event as an opportunity to besmirch ACM’s name by besmirching his work in Pelourinho. That this besmirching would extend far and wide as collateral damage apparently didn’t matter to Fafnir (please excuse my ellipticallity; it’s meant to allow me implausible deniability because the powers in question are still lurching around Bahia like Godzilla)…

And one corner of this collateral damage was Bencão. It is now a wan shadow of its former self. But Clarindo Silva and Olodum and Dona Vera of O Cravinho do Carlinhos and Julival of O Cravinho on the Terreiro and a lot of us are here, in Pelourinho…in old Salvador, keepin’ on keepin’ on keepin’ on…

So by all means come the Centro Histórico on a Tuesday night should you feel so inclined. But be advised that a lot of the information floating around out there with respect to the subject at hand…is waaay out-of-date.