Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Tired of the murkiness of downtown Recife, Mr X resolves to move address. There is some heaviness about the heart in taking such a decision, for there have been some good times here in Boa Vista, and nights of much revelry and bleary eyed philosophising in Cadu’s and the Praça, and many friends, both permanent and temporary, have been made. But it is also a tiring place to live, and the gruesome pagode played at the gay sauna in front of his apartment three nights a week has become the final drop of water.

Luck has smiled upon Mr X, something that he must admit, when he puts aside his mask of world weary cynicism, happens rather often than he probably deserves. Via the wonders of the internet he makes a friend from a small Caribbean island, and the friend invites Mr X to a barbecue at his home in Olinda. The barbecue is washed out by one of the torrential rainstorms that every so often batter the north east coast of Brazil during winter, but more importantly the friend and his wife tell Mr X that they are moving, and that their house, which has a garden, a sea view and is five minutes walk from the colonial wonders of Olinda’s cidade alta, will soon be available.

Mr X moves quicker than a chicken in a bar full of foxes and the next week he meets with Getulio Vargas, the owner of the house. Getulio Vargas tells Mr X a few minutes into their meeting that he is a homosexual who dislikes other homosexuals and instead prefers to conduct his affairs of the heart with heterosexual men who have (a) a female partner and (b) the required amount of spare time. Mr X remains unaffronted by this revelation and the only comment he has to make on this state of affairs is that it seems a rather impractical use of Senhor Vargas’ time, given that the apparatus involved in both situations would, one presumes, be much the same. In any case good feeling abounds and Mr X and Getulio Vargas agree a very reasonable rent and arrange to meet a few days later to sign contracts, pay deposits and so on.

But, like a music industry lawyer whose titanic ego has been pricked, fate turns and snaps angrily at Mr X. On Monday Getulio Vargas informs him that bad news is afoot. A Mystery Woman has emerged, one who has fallen in love with the house and is willing to pay Getulio Vargas a chunk of change that is considerably greater than the chunk of change Mr X was willing to pay, in exchange for the privilege of seeing the sun sparking on the balmy Atlantic with her morning coffee. Getulio Vargas sighs as he recounts this tale of woe to Mr X (seeming remarkably affected by the saga given that it will result in him receiving more money than before), and tells Mr X that really he would prefer to rent the house to him, and that the whole thing is just a terrible gosh darn’ shame. As he listens Mr X has a feeling he knows where the whole shebang is heading, particularly when Getulio Vargas calls The Mystery Woman during their conversation. Getulio Vargas and The Mystery Women exchange information that Mr X thinks surely must already have been exchanged. After the phone call Getulio asks Mr X if there isn’t anything he can do to make things easier for them both? Couldn’t Mr X find a way to increase the agreed rent, so that it more closely resembles the rent offered by The Mystery Woman?

Mr X has a feeling that The Mystery Woman is no more real than a down and dirty street fight involving a unicorn and a mermaid, but also, really that there is not an awful lot he can do about the situation. So after a little meaningless bantering Mr X agrees to the increased rent and amidst much falsity and squeaky grinning and damp handshakes things are settled.

Most people, of course, would suggest that Mr X has, as a gringo, been the victim of a dusting of Brazilian financial chicanery. Many Brazilians will tell you that gringo means foreigner, no more and no less. This is true of course, but the word also carries an inkling that being a gringo, the bearer of the title is also (a) rich and (b) if not entirely stupid then at least clankingly naïve. It is in the intonation and the roll of the eyes that usually accompanies the utterance, and the tutting noise that precedes or succeeds it. But the idea that gringoes are there to be fleeced and that most of them are rich enough not to notice doesn’t tell the whole story. After all those involved in transactions involving property throughout the world are as famous for their financial honesty as big city taxi drivers, and I was often almost the victim of much seedier scams than Getulio Vargas’s whilst living in a city of such exemplary honesty as London (hur hur). Rather, it is a lazy little stereotype propagated by both Brazilians (who like Liverpudlians often take a strange type of pride in their trickiness) and gringoes. For example, at the beginning of the great funfair ride with The Ex-Girlfriend all those years ago, I was told by both gringoes and well-heeled Brazilians to “hold onto my wallet”, the idea being that The Ex-Girlfriend and/or her family were out to get their hands on my fairly insubstantial hoard of dough and that when it happened I would be too naïve to protect myself. Of course no such thing happened, or at least not often, and in fact The Ex-Girlfriend would have probably have starved herself to an aesthetically pleasing death before she would ever have asked me for money.

The point being, if there is ever a point to anything here, is that Brazil is never as unique as it would like to be (whilst remaining very unique indeed) – it is never as good, it is never as bad. People cheat people all over the world, and (he says with stunning obviousness) there are gringoes who make the lowest of Brazilian picaroons look like unworldly Pollyannas. So in the end, as the lights go out and the streets grow quiet here in Boa Vista, from where Mr X will soon take his leave, it can only be said that Brazilians are not probably as dishonest as Brazilians would like to think they are. And that feels like The End, for now, because I'm deadly tired.


Dan said...

What a wonderful post to happen across. I spent a year, one month in Boa Viagem, Recife. I couldnt understand why anyone would want to visit Recife at all. I was pleased to get back to Joao Pessoa, a far more beautiful place to live.
I expect many estrangeiros can identify with the financial scudugery that goes on (as you mentioned).
When it happens, I generally just turn my back on the situation. What is worse though is paying someone like a building contractor and then not getting the job done.
Look forward to more posts.

Our site about Joao Pessoa is

e.o. said...

From reader to character: gotta love the internet.

Getulio Vargas the president, though not a homosexual, did have some pretty underhanded moves, just like this Getulio. Like you, I suspect this woman was a figment of his imagination; as a character, I must add that the other people who asked about the house (the day of the move, since the truck called attention to the soon-to-be-vacant house) lost interest when the price we paid was mentioned.

Either way, I wish you nothing but the best in that house, which will remain a big part of my personal history, and I offer my help in anything you need.


James Young said...

Dan and EO, thanks for the nice messages. Dan I just wanted to point out that the idea I'm trying to get across is very much the opposite that life for a foreigner in Brazil is just one fleecing after another - for me Getulio Vargas' antics are to be found in any country you care to mention, especially when the foreigner and local flashpoint comes in to play. (Ok - maybe not Denmark - I can't imagine any such skullduggery in Denmark.) And to further put my foot in it, I love Recife, hate Boa Viagem, and also spent a year in Joao Pessoa, and couldn't take to the place at all. Yes its pretty in spots, but to me devoid of cultural identity and local pride and energy (not something that Recife can be accused of). But I'll check out your site and maybe you'll prove me wrong! Anyway thanks for the messages, all the best....