Tuesday, 29 July 2008


A wiser man than I (I believe it may have been Liam Gallagher, though I may be wrong - and by the way, the picture here is not Liam Gallagher but Nelson Rodrigues, and I have published it here for no other reason than I like it) once wrote that countries are very much like people in the way they grow and the personalities they develop. This seems as true as anything else I have heard (certainly it seems truer than the superstitions of any God you care to name), and if is not true then arguing whether it is true or not might lead us to something that is, finally, true. This theory would make England, I suppose, a faded bachelor of an uncle, shorn of the physical forms of love, consumed with the loss of former glories, tutting ceaselessly about The Way Things Should Be and how Nothing Is As Good As It Was. Germany would be this uncle’s more successful, more overbearing brother, in uncommonly good physical shape at 50 and fond of opining on just where Brother England has gone wrong. Ireland, North and South, might be the third of these siblings, the most fun of the lot at parties, but, when the drink is inside him, prone to kicking seven bells out of the wife behind closed doors. As for the rest of the world, you can see I am sure that this is a game one might play for some time. All of this would make Brazil (and whether it is a good or a bad thing I cannot yet decide) a rucking, often thoughtless, teenager. Occasionally self-obsessed and generally inconsiderate of the feelings of others, not given to thinking much into the long term, she (for Brazil is always a country of women – not in the traditional sense of being a country of sex and beauty, but in the sense that it is women, finally, who hold things together here while the men caper clownishly over money, power and their obsession with not being cuckolded and/or thought homosexual) is also free with her smiles and affection and boundlessly capable of love, and filled with a dizzying, chaotic energy.

Being young, perhaps most importantly of all, one thing that Brazil does not do much, or at least the Brazil I know, is wring its hands and talk much about the things that are missing from life (there are parts of Brazilian society that do this, but they are the least Brazilian of all and so do not merit much mention here). While this may lead to a lack of thinking about things generally (Brazilians do not seem to spend much time pondering the meaning of life), it also avoids a tremendous amount of the misery and the pointlessness that seem to fill the lives of people in better organised and chillier countries, a pointlessness that can best be expressed by educated Europe and North America’s fascination with the four most useless inventions of humankind, being (1) spending more time than is absolutely necessary thinking about, preparing and eating food, or in other words mistaking food for happiness (2) fashion (3) people arguing about things they know nothing about and could care less about (4) people talking about the state of their relationships.

Anyway. Once again (this is becoming something of a theme), this has nothing very much to do with anything, only that last night or this morning I woke at 4am with an itching sense of not quite knowing where I was. Sleep has always been something like love for me – I sometimes have almost but not quite as much as I would like, and frequently go long periods without very much at all. In any case, awake at such an hour and without much hope of a happy return to oblivion any time soon, I resolve to ride my bicycle around downtown Recife. On a scale of 1 to 10 riding a bicycle around downtown Recife at 4.30 in the morning is not quite as dangerous as a city walking tour of Baghdad any time recently but neither is it as idyllic as boating on Lake Geneva.

And so to business. It is cold now at night – not truly cold of course, but coming out of a warm shower and standing in the dark on the balcony it is enough to cause a shiver. There is no-one to watch me, as I wheel my bike into the road, save the cats. I cycle down through Praça Maciel Pinheiro where a few hardy souls still slump over their beer (it is Monday night and Tuesday morning). Under every shop front and on every church step the homeless sleep on mattresses of cardboard. I cross the river over the bridge and then over the next river and into Recife Antigo and down to Marco Zero and then wheel back around. Empty warehouses and office buildings and abandoned apartment buildings hulk doomily above me. Only at the Cais De Santa Rita, the bus terminus, is there any life at all, and it is life of the least wholesome kind. The bars around Cais De Santa Rita are where you go when there is really nowhere else to go, the place where sooner or later, everyone who likes a drink or two or thirty, everyone who has no reason to be in bed at 4.30am on a Monday night/Tuesday morning, ends up. When nuclear holocaust finally arrives, and when we start ourselves up again a few decades later, I imagine the early man volume 2 drinking holes will look much like Cais De Santa Rita. It is especially where the teenage prostitutes who ply their trade on street corners in Boa Viagem stop off on their way home and as I look at them, their eyes glassy and deadened, I wonder have I failed entirely as a writer when I say that I can no more imagine what their lives must be like than I can imagine what it must be like to live on Mars.

I think, briefly, about stopping for a drink but good sense, for once, calls me away. (Things have become so unravelled now that I am rarely aware of what is or is not A Very Bad Idea). As I ride home the city is beginning to awaken – black becomes grey, buses belch smoke on the bridges. And in the end, nothing much at all happened, and really that is about all there is to say about things. You might be entitled to be angry for having wasted your time reading this (imagine how I feel having written it). But life has become without adventures, and is the worse for it, and though I will try harder from now on, there is ultimately not much I can do about it, for adventures come to us as much as we ourselves seek them out.

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