Wednesday, 2 April 2008


It is different here. It is different in the north east.

Between 3pm and 6pm is the best time of day. Drive from Recife to Joao Pessoa late in the afternoon. The sky is a pale blue, as fragile as an eggshell. Inky clouds the size of countries roll past above. Beyond and in front of everything is the sun, first a yellow too bright to look at, then, as the daylight fades and everything seems to hang lower in the sky, it becomes a fiery orange, and as the day comes to an end, a bloody, bruised purple. Someone is burning something in a garden in one of the roadside shanty towns. Grey haze from the smoke softens everything - the sharp dark green of the trees, the far-off, dazzling blue of the sea. The smell of the smoke drifts in through the car window. Everywhere is colour, everywhere is heat.

In a place like this, being in Brazil is a kind of intoxication. In a place like this, being in Brazil is like being just a little more than slightly drunk, all of the time.

Look out the car window. Girls and boys walk to church dressed as though for the beach or a nightclub, tiny, rainbow bright tops and skirts, football shirts and Bermuda shorts. Their clothes are merely an embellishment of the brown sheen of their skin. There are no pavements here, so the girls and boys walk in single file along the side of the roaring highway, dust from the road billowing around them.

After the bloody purple the light fades and it is dark. Amongst the darkness blink lights from the small houses by the side of the road. Look closely and you can see, through the open doors, families, almost always women, grandmothers who are also great grandmothers, mothers who are also grandmothers, teenage girls who are also mothers with babies cradled in their arms, silently watching the endless TV soap operas, the stories of wealth and power amongst the rich of Rio and São Paolo, three thousand kilometers away from here and a hundred years in the future. The men stand outside in what passes for the street, the dirt track that runs along the side of the highway, and watch the cars pass, or sit in grubby roadside bars, nursing their beers for hours. If you come here again tomorrow they will be there still.

Look through the wide open doors of the churches - square, squat, glaringly bright under fluorescent lights. Here are the boys and girls from before, the men and women, the children and babies, arms spread high while a preacher rails and sweats maniacally from the pulpit.

As for what is beyond the roadside strip, you can see nothing from the road, but you know it is there, the mysteries of the soft hot night, the rutted dirt tracks and tiny windowless homes, the teenage girls and boys giggling and flirting, the children chasing dogs, the samba or forro playing, the food grilling above flame or boiling in huge earthenware pots, the Flamengo or Corinthians shirts.

From "Your Life Is An Impossibility"

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