Sopa do Chão

On Wednesday (quarta-fiera), after an early trip to Bons Frutos, we visited Santos’ central market. Only a few blocks from Procomum, Diego and I went there to xìpa — ask for food that would otherwise go to waste, and I was surprised that we were given plenty. Returning back to LABxS we came across a box of vegetables on the street and added some peppers, tomatoes and quiabo to our haul. With these donations and the sobres (leftovers) from the day’s lunch we planned to make a soup that we would then take out to serve on the street. To me it seemed like a logical way of extending our activities in the kitchen at LABxS out into the neighbourhood; elaborating on processes of collecting food, cooking and redistributing local ‘resources.’

The previous night we had thought a little about what this street action might do. We had wanted to use a tricycle that had had just been refurbished and colourfully painted to serve as a mobile radio station. We also tried to come up with a stencil and name or catchphrase to label the project; ‘sopa-de-bici,’ ‘comida para a gente,’ ‘cozinha do chão’ etc.

I’ve found the lunch events we’ve hosted at LABxS, Almoço Contra o Trabalho, to be quite hectic. People appear, energy levels suddenly rise, some things get cooked others are left aside, people get hungry and eat whatever is around. It’s a little chaotic, which I like, as it does not make sense to make it formal, but without having a good grasp of the language my participation is limited.

Nevertheless, I’ve learned from the Procomum community that they are pleased how the regular events have activated the kitchen, an infrastructure leftover from the building’s prior occupants — a soup kitchen, Prata de Sopa. Diego has discussed with me some ideas he’d like to develop around a social kitchen that could bring together people who want to cook but have nowhere to do so, people who want to cook with other people and people who don’t know how to cook but are interested to learn. We had talked about setting it up in the streets, perhaps drawing on methods like the hacker pizza oven or the practices and tools developed by artist Jesper Aabille. We could also learn from the activist cooking collectives that fuel mass actions and occupations in Europe, who set up mobile bakeries, pizza ovens and crepe grills in streets and campsites.

Hackers’ sidewalk pizza oven.

After lunch we were invited to a nearby Umbanda, which was holding a session to cure those with ‘spiritual obsessions.’ Perhaps more of a popular spiritualist tradition than a religion, Umbanda appeals to a wide cross section of people in Brasil. While I am curious as to what goes on in such terreiros, I’m not sure if I could commit to it as a practice. Diego, however, did start to feel something quite powerful while we were there and was encouraged by people of the house to return.

In the evening we began the soup, being respectful of people’s generosity. After making the stock with leftovers and cutting and adding all the vegetables we’d been given, we let it simmer for a couple of hours.

Diego smudges the cauldron.

‘It’s about the soup,’ Diego said when we realised that we would never fit the cauldron on the back of the trike. So instead of struggling with three wheels and an enormous hot pot, we packed some soup into a few takeaway containers that had been left in the kitchen. Feeling tired after the long day, we decided rather than ride we would walk around the neighbourhood. Heading away from the port, it was a few blocks before we came upon anybody and the first person we approached waved us on. Of course, I thought, why would anyone accept soup from a stranger? Backtracking towards the central market we came upon a group of people sleeping under the awning of a local tribunal court, lying exposed in fluorescent light. I thought: ‘they are asleep and probably don’t want to be disturbed’, but when Diego sang out to them, bodies stirred and signaled. One old man arose and gingerly made his way towards us and within minutes we had passed on all our packages. It was for me a humbling experience.

The next evening Diego told me he’d picked up some more take away containers and we could distribute the remaining soup. This outing would be more playful with the tricycle (sans som sistema). Its handlebars and saddle were a little shifty, making it difficult to steer which also lent some slapstick to our actions. Diego wanted to shoot some video, so along the way he would direct me to pass by his phone or stop in front of some graffiti or other urban attraction.

Santo’s central market is not so busy and a number of sem-teto people sleep under the shelter of shop awnings. Tonight was also delivery night and alongside the drug trade and street pickers, things seemed relatively bustling.

We took a couple of hours to range around, shoot video and deliver the soup. People, again, were very appreciative and would often want to talk. With my poor Portuguese I am not help, but Diego is ever patient and interested. When we returned he sorted through his bag of spices and gifted me a generous pouch of Mulungu tea, which was about all I had space to carry. Made from the fibre of a tree it is not so well known outside of Brasil. Apparently it is used spiritually to treat anxiety and along with his tobacco he keeps them with his spices, which he quipped are also spiritual substances.

Diego e amigo.

The next morning I woke up late. After making coffee, I discovered the day was hot and went down to the garden to say goodbye to the garden and herbs. I realised I wasn’t feeling so well and a phrase from our visit to the indigenous village stuck in my head — ‘spiritual sickness.’ Diego and I had discussed going out for brunch before I caught my bus to the airport, but I was too dizzy and nauseous to leave. Diego bounded off to the cozinha and returned soon after with a large cup of coconut water, which supplied the perfect relief — ‘water +’ as some say. Chatting in the car en route to the rodoviaría Diego affirmed his belief that food is also a medicine, which I took to mean as physical, social and spiritual nourishment.

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