Friday, 29 August 2008

In Capitaes Da Area, Jorge Amado writes, several thousand times, about Bahia being a place of magic and light and endless mystery, and Mr X knows very much what he means, because for Mr X Brazil was once a land of mystery too (and still is in some ways). But Salvador, or at least Pelourinho, no longer holds much that is mysterious or magical. Rather it is a place of terrible exploitation, as might be expected when brutal poverty rubs bony shoulders with foreign tourism. Mr X spends four days in Pelourinho and finds he can hardly bear the sight of the vulturish beggars preying on convoys of waddling American tourists, the joyless Nordic backpackers lolling gubernatorially in restaurants, the dead eyed prostitutes manhandling middle aged, balding German baggage.

Upon rejecting the advances of one beautiful garota da programa, who must be all of 19 and speaks fluent English, if fluent English means being able to say “you want massage now, yes?”, Mr X feels compelled to give the girl some career advice, while of course knowing absolutely nothing about her life or job requirements. Don’t be so aggressive, so obvious, he says. Gringos want to think you like them in a normal way (whatever that might be), that they are desirable, every Brazilian girl’s dream. And once they think that – then you charge them! Mr X sits back, pleased with himself. The girl looks at him, her face an ornate carving in stone, and walks away. Mr X feels like a fool, for it is the third time he has attempted to help a prostitute in Brazil after firmly rejecting the goods sold at her particular store. He does not know why he does this, only that he believes human interaction is the only possible justification for our existence on this often miserable planet.

And in some way he feels justified in believing this when, on his last night in Salvador, he gives an espetinho vendor R$10 to buy a barbecued chicken spit every day for a week for the street kid who perches sparrow like on the kerb next to where Mr X has taken to supping his refreshing nightly guarana, or cerveja based equivalent. The kid has legs so thin that Mr X suspects heavy rain might snap them into shrapnel, and when he waltzes past Mr X’s table, clutching a hunk of chicken bigger than his head, he gives Mr X an ear-splitting grin and a delighted thumbs up sign. Later, inspired by his largesse, and after perhaps one guarana too many, Mr X, when waylaid on his way home by another lost soul, gives the boy all the money he has, which is about R$2.75. The boy scampers off into the night, saying now he can buy some rice and beans, although both Mr X and the boy know that rice and beans is probably the last thing on tonight’s menu.

Mr X thinks most people would say he is being exploited, but he also thinks he does not care in the slightest, for he has money, not a lot but enough, and the people who ask him for help have nothing and are as thin as carpets. And in the end, he believes it is a very poor thing indeed to sit enjoying a fine meal in the type of restaurant that has cushions-and-music-and-waiters-and-everything and to turn away from the beggars in the street, to use the excuse that you are somehow being duped as an excuse to do nothing, to claim that your hand will remain in your plumply padded pocket because the mendigo will spend it on booze or drugs or special interest magazines rather than on low-fat low-carbs healthy snacks. As far as Mr X is concerned the mendigo can spend it on whatever the hell he or she wants, and all of this refusniking seems like a very black stain on the human heart of anyone who does such a thing.

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