Saturday, 29 March 2008


This year it rained during Carnaval. The rain today makes me think back to the rain then.

We spent Carnaval at Ana’s sister Carolina’s house, in Providencia, which is a bairro in the north of Belo Horizonte.

Belo Horizonte does not really have a Carnaval in the same way that Rio or Salvador or Olinda does, but we had a good time nonetheless. I was nervous beforehand, because Providencia is not a rich bairro, and I, of course, am a gringo. A gringo, any Brazilian will tell you, is a foreigner, no more and no less. This is not entirely true. A gringo is a foreigner, yes, but in Brazil this signifies that because he is a foreigner he is also therefore most probably (a) rich and (b) naïve (if not entirely stupid). If you imagine a graph, and if rich is the y axis and naïve is the x axis, then the plot marked by the graph would lead you to the old saying of a fool and his money being easily parted. If you confront a Brazilian with this definition of gringo they will deny its accuracy. But that does not mean it is not true.

In any case it is not at all common for a gringo to go into bairros like Providencia.

But everyone was wonderfully friendly - the men shook my hand and the women kissed my cheek. Here in Minas Gerais it is customary to kiss each cheek once and then the first cheek a second time. I try as best I can, bending stiffly forward, clutching my unfortunate target’s shoulder like a man in danger of drowning. Often I forget that third kiss. It is a stressful business, though it should not be.

One afternoon at Carnaval, when Ana and Carolina had gone to the supermarket, Fabricio, Ana’s brother in law, showed me his gun. It was small and clean, nestling in the palm of his hand.

I need to protect my family, he said.

Fabricio showed me a great many things. He was eager to please. He showed me his CD collection, playing the CDs so loud that we had to shout when we talked. While he played the CDs he asked me if I liked them.

He said, in English, are you liking the rock band U2?

Fabricio cannot speak English. He had learnt this sentence, somewhere, especially for my visit.
No, I said, I am not liking the rock band U2.

Fabricio laughed.

On the afternoon of the Sunday of Carnaval Fabricio’s brother asked me to lend him ten reais. I said no. He asked again, promising to pay me back. Eventually, I gave it to him. I did not want to, but neither did I want to upset the way things were. Later on, I told Fabricio, and he went into his brother’s house. There was shouting, and the sound of a face being slapped, then Fabricio came out of the house and gave me my ten reais back.

When Ana is drunk and I am drunk we fight, because I have become jealous over her. On the last night of Carnaval, her friend Roberto asked her if she knew where he could buy cocaine. Roberto is Ana’s age. Ana is twenty. I am thirty three. Normally, here in Brazil, this does not make a difference. Sometimes it does. She knew where to buy the cocaine, of course, and so she ran off with Roberto. She did not tell me where she was going, and as I watched them disappear amongst the crowds, amongst the orange street lights and the smoke from the fried food stands and the hissing rain, my mind had already begun to spin at a higher velocity than normal.

Where were they going?

What were they doing?

Ten minutes passed. Twenty. Half an hour. My thoughts became darker. Ana came back and wrapped her arms around me. She kissed me softly on the lips. I felt her small hand in mine, her skin moist with rain and perspiration, for the night was still warm.

I pushed her away. I sulked.

In the rain I walked away. I bought a beer. I did not sulk for long, for I am not a good sulker. I came back. I saw her dancing on the other side of the street. I smiled at her. She smiled back and blew me a kiss.

Afterwards it is always almost alright again.

I was never a jealous man before, but here I have become a jealous man.

From “Your Life Is An Impossibility”

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