Friday, 13 June 2008
Before I came here a friend said to me I hope you find whatever it is you are looking for. As she spoke I heard the heavy drag of disappointment and foreboding in her voice. You’re crazy, it seemed she was saying, what the hell do you think you’re doing?
And even though almost three years have passed now since I gave up a good job and a comfortable apartment in London to move here I still from time to time hear that voice in my head and I wonder, yes, what is it exactly that I am doing here?
For if I look through a dark lens then sometimes the view is not as picturesque as it might be. I am thirty six years old with no discernible career prospects, at least by the standards of the world I used to know. I am involved in no real romantic entanglements, though as ever a few stars twinkle hopefully along the horizon. I live in a crumbling flat in the ramshackle downtown district of the most violent state capital in Brazil, and I share this flat with The Ex-Girlfriend, whom I am sheltering from both the Brazilian police and the traficantes who killed her boyfriend. I have few real friends here and am over 12,000km away from my family. Oh, and I have spent the last two years writing a book about myself and The Ex-Girlfriend, with whom I until recently believed myself still to be in love, though I know now this is not true. Needless to say the British publishing industry has yet to work itself into a suitable frenzy regarding the commercial merits of publishing this book and making me as rich as Midas, or at least Parsons.
But on the other hand. This morning I was woken by my downstairs neighbour banging on the door to tell me that someone had tried to steal my bike during the night. The gate at the bottom of the stairs had been battered by bricks and bent out of shape but had not opened and my bike was jammed into the gap between the gate and the wall. It seems the thieves, who may not be destined to go down in the annals of the great criminal minds of our century, then gave up and tried to steal the nearby water pump. They failed at this too, though seem to have spent a great deal of time dislodging bricks from the pump’s protective housing. Surprisingly for a Brazilian, my neighbour did not descend into hand-wringing and lamentation at this sight but seemed to find the thieves incompetence most amusing.
He went to work and I went to the bakery in Praça Santa Cruz and bought fresh bread and a big hunk of coalho cheese and some honey cake for breakfast. Now it is half past four in the afternoon and I have just taken a shower. I left the bathroom door open as I was showering (The Ex-Girlfriend has found a job looking after the youngest child of The Ex-Girlfriend With Two Kids – you will understand that the word irony has by now ceased to have any meaning whatsoever in my life. In any case that The Ex-Girlfriend has a job is enough of a surprise so that if it were Christmas it would be A Christmas Miracle!) so from the shower I could see the sun setting across the rooftops of Boa Vista, and watch the trees flashing dark green and gold in the early evening light, and so I could hear the Milton Nascimento CD that was playing in the living room.
When I have finished writing this I am going to read the Folha De Sao Paulo, the only decent newspaper in Brazil and which in Recife costs as much as a cheap lunch, and after that I will make some coffee and read some more of Machado De Assis’s Quincas Borba in which the anti-hero Rubiao says “What was he a year ago? A teacher. What is he now? A capitalist!” which provides a neat reversal of how things have worked out for me though I am not much of a teacher and I was never a very good capitalist. After that when The Ex-Girlfriend comes home maybe she and I will go for a drink, or perhaps Vanessa, the star that currently twinkles brightest, will call. Most days I do not have very much to do, and there is ample time to walk around the city and to read and write. And when I think what it is I would be doing had I stayed in London, I imagine myself in an office somewhere, my face pressed to the window glass, watching the day fading before me, its light and its air and its sounds always just out of reach.
So if I could speak to that friend now, and if she asked me again what it is I think am looking for, I believe I would tell her the only thing I am looking for is the peace to be allowed to not look for anything very much at all, and if it is not always like that here then it is, at least sometimes, like that.