Tuesday, 28 October 2008


The arrival on the scene of The Dog and The Someone To Be Named Later have paralysed things on this site a little but still I'm as shocked as a cat chucked in a swimming pool to find that it has been a month since I last wrote. It all goes to show that the big question, really, is that are we happier in a life free from responsibility? Because after all a life free from responsibility means a life free to do whatever we want, whenever we want, be it to write or walk the streets in a sinister, lurking fashion or to simply sit in the garden and stare out at the sea. And with responsibility, even when it is a good responsibility like with The Dog and The Someone To Be Named Later, comes a fuller life, but also a life that is more clogged with and after that I have to....

But this is something to be pondered over the next few weeks and not now. Recife is still Recife, still the greatest city on earth, still the worst. It is a funny place, in the end, because it hardly works at all, yet, patched up with bandages and held together with bits of string and rubber bands, it also works perfectly. This week, for example, works by the water company will leave 500,000 without agua for three days. This seems like a lot, and to those in countries where people generally think they have it better, is probably a cross impossible to bear. But the water will come back, after a while, and while people will complain they will also joke about the situation, and this to me seems the most important thing. So in short - Recife works, sometimes, almost always, just.

And this, it seems, is why Recife might be the greatest city on earth - because it is the most like a city of all cities. It is the dirtiest, the most violent, and, as the buses whip like rockets down Avenida Agamenon Magalhaes, and a giggle of young girls comes running down the steps of the Baptist College and tumbles aboard, all of them chirping like starlings, and the popcorn sellers flock up to the windows and the motorbikes buzz impatiently at the traffic lights up ahead, and as all of this takes place on a night as warm as a steam bath, maybe the most exciting. It is also, as the moon glitters like broken glass on the river and the sea after that, one of the most beautiful. It is a city, finally, in all its ugliness and chaos and uproar, and after living here whenever I here the word city I will think of Recife, and the other places that I once thought of as being cities are cities no longer. The good things in London, the restaurants and the theatre and the bars, for example, cost money, and as such London commits the cardinal sin of cities - it excludes a great many people, the people who make up the city, from what supposedly makes the city great (the really good things in Recife are free or almost free or if they are not free they are very cheap - carnaval, drinking in a corner bar, street food like caldinhos and grilled queijo coalho, talking, football, the beach, the music).

New York is exuberant enough, I suppose, but again, after Recife, New York feels about as exciting as Coventry. And for those who like to complain that nothing works here, it seems to me that maybe cities are not supposed to work properly, for how on earth could a conglomeration of three or four million people who do not know each other and whose existence relies on shared services that no-one has the money to pay for, really ever work? And going a little further, maybe too far, I'd even say that cities that do work (and I'm sure they exist - in Switzerland or Denmark or Canada maybe) aren't ever really cities at all - but just pleasant, efficient, towns. And surely the worst place one can ever live is a town, whatever a town may be.

Classes have started again in Jordao, or rather they have not, because no-one turned up last week. So I went to the bar on the corner with my friend Edilson, and as I sat looking out at the gently twinkling lights of a bairro that looks during the day like it might have very recently survived a nuclear holocaust, I thought first of all how odd it is that somewhere like Jordao has become a large part of my life, and second of all how it is odd that it is here that I feel at home and not amongst the BMWs of Boa Viagem.

The Auld Doll thought this too, when she was over, and given a childhood growing up in gentle poverty in Fermanagh, with no running water and sleeping six to a bed, she was probably right. Hard to say what it is, whether it's the older people talking quietly outside church, or the kids playing in the street past midnight, but it is there nonetheless. I felt it closer to home last week when my neighbours, who a few weeks ago gave me The Dog, gave me a big pot of sururu, which I guzzled down happily with a beer or two and a pan of rice.

Anyway. Summer is back, and it is sunny every day now, and looking from the garden out to the sea can hurt the eyes. Heavy drinking needs to be gotten a hold of and fast. Words need to be written. The Dog needs to be fed, the plants watered. When I took the bus home last night, as we bounced over the viaduto that separates Recife from Olinda, at the point where the air changes and becomes cooler and lighter and more watery, there was something burning somewhere, and the night was so hot that looking at the orange lights up on the hill, it felt like the whole city might be on fire.

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