The Triangle and the Thin Biscuit: Reverberations of a Walking Practice


Thaís Amorim Aragão


[] agglomerated places where time is slow, adapted to the incomplete or inherited infrastructures of the past, opaque spaces that also seem to be areas of resistance. The non-hegemonic economy and the hegemonized social classes meet survival conditions within these spaces consisting of outdated structures. Under these conditions, the great cities of the Third World are, on one hand, rigid in their international vocation and, on the other, endowed with flexibility, thanks to an environment built to allow the operation of all types of capital and, thus, admitting the presence of all types of work. (Santos 1994: 38-39)[1]




To study the walking route of a street vendor of the chegadinho (a crisp, sweet, thin, dry biscuit), who plays the triangle throughout the streets of Fortaleza in northeastern Brazil, is an attempt to understand the role of sound in the development of territoriality, understood as “the general assumption for the formation of territories (whether or not established)” (Haesbaert 2004: 36). In this paper, I am questioning as to whether the use of sound, throughout decades, by street vendors during their daily circuits can contribute to the development of a specific territoriality, asking how this sound-centered process of territorialization might occur and what it could reveal about the city. Simultaneously, this research also sheds light on other processes that form territory, since, according to artist, writer and theorist Brandon LaBelle “[t]o engage these territories through the mode of listening, and according to auditory behavior” allows us “to recognize the already existing relational movements of the contemporary situations which mark the globe” (2010: xxiv).


According to geographer Rogério Haesbaert, the process of territorialization is the result of the “interaction between social relations and control of/through space, power relations in a broad sense, in a way that is both more concrete (domination) and symbolic (a kind of appropriation)” (Haesbaert 2004: 235). From this perspective, he assumes that symbolic and political powers are inseparable and that the conception of territory that integrates materiality and the feelings inspired by it can overcome the materialism-idealism dichotomy. According to LaBelle, “sonic materiality operates as ‘micro-epistemologies’, with the echo, the vibration, the rhythmic, for instance, opening up to specific ways of knowing the world.” More than places or sites, acoustic territories are itineraries; they are “movements between and among differing forces, full of multiplicities” (LaBelle 2010: xxv).


In the process of thinking about the activity of these street vendors of the fifth most populous Brazilian metropolis,[2] philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre's (2004) rhythmanalysis and the theoretical model of the occasion by Michel de Certeau (2009: 147) are both ideas that add to the notion of geographer Milton Santos’s ([1996] 2002) slow man. Slow persons are the ordinary poor people, often immigrants in a town. Without access to abilities that would enable them to keep up with the vertiginous speed that characterize the globalized contemporary world, slow people find an ally for action in local banal spaces, a fertile ground for creativity and solidarity. “Our effort must be to understand the mechanisms of this new solidarity, which was founded in the slow times of the metropolis and challenges the perversity disseminated in the fast-paced times of competitiveness” (Santos 1994: 42). According to Santos ([1996] 2002), speed, as research data, is not technical but political, and it can be considered a feature of territory analysis.


The eminently local knowledge that Santos attributes to the slow person is equivalent to the Greek word metis, which was recovered by de Certeau during his studies of historians Marcel Détienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant (2008) to develop his theoretical model of the occasion. In this model, even those who do not have power over space could, thanks to an accumulation of knowledge over time, intervene at the “opportune moment” and create spatial transformations (de Certeau 2009: 148). Lefebvre, in turn, suggests analyzing the rhythms in social spaces from a time-space-energy triad: “Everywhere where there is interaction between a place, a time and an expenditure of energy, there is rhythm” (Lefebvre 2004: 15).


Finally, I understand that the phenomenon studied is closely related to what LaBelle (2010) calls acoustic territories. Inspired by journalist Jane Jacobs’ idea of the sidewalk as a mediating space as well as philosopher, urban planner, and musicologist Jean-François Augoyard’s consideration of walking as expression and rhetoric, LaBelle develops the notion of the sonic body “as [a] step-by-step journey-form” and “as the effective dislocation and reconfiguration of the body under the mediating spell of a sonic event” (LaBelle 2010: 107). In this study, I investigate the sonic walker – the street vendor of chegadinho – who takes to the streets using the sound of his triangle to foster the encounters with mostly unknown people. It is his way of making a living. It is not, therefore, a disinterested stroll around the city.


Having presented the conceptual framework, I continue this article by investigating the ongoing links between the phenomenon studied in Fortaleza and the mobile practices of hawkers in other cities of Latin America as well as the old practices recorded in Europe, particularly in places that now form parts of Portugal, Spain, and France. Then I will address the relationship of Fortaleza vendors with the triangle – how they got it, how they learned to play it, and how they characterize the performance of this instrument, in terms of both the selling of chegadinho and so-called musical practices. I will also observe how the triangle appears in Brazilian popular music and how the music and sound emitted by vendors have mutually influenced each other over time. Finally, I will address the social space of the city where the phenomenon occurs to understand the organization and possible meanings of territorialization that emerged from the data obtained and addressed in this study.


The study was conducted between 2010 and 2011, and field research included analysis of written documents and semi-structured interviews with street vendors and biscuit producers. At first, I faced some distrust on the part of vendors, similar to that reported by the ethnomusicologist Anthony W. Rasmussen (2017) when he was in the field, studying the occupation of torero/a (a street vendor who works in a forbidden place or manner, dodging the “bull,” the city inspector) in the acoustic territory of Mexico City's historic center. One distinctive aspect of the sale of chegadinhos in Fortaleza is that it does not happen in fixed spots on the city, but with vendors constantly walking, cutting through several neighborhoods with no return to areas already covered. At first this made it harder for me to find them so I could talk to them, as they were scattered all over the city and usually on the move. Similarly, this also made it difficult to understand the extent of the territoriality investigated, even after the interviews. Among the group of vendors with whom I talked the longest, three men allowed me to go out with them on the streets to retrace their itineraries that stretched for kilometers. In addition to the video and audio recordings, a map of listening points was also developed in collaboration with a network of volunteers. This temporary, elusive, possibly metaphorical artifact (Augoyard, [1979] 2007: 17) worked as an auxiliary tool to identify the emergence of a specific territoriality primarily established by the sound of the triangles played by these workers.