Monday, 22 December 2008


The Miracle Birth Reader (so-called because I still can’t believe he or any other readers really exist) pointed out that blog is a terrible word, and that he likes to think of such things as this as diaries. I quite agree, and with this in mind I thought I’d give a little insight into an average day in Recife/Olinda in December 2008.

Starting off normally enough, I wake up before 8am and take Guinness The Dog for a walk. Needless to say the part of the bed which would in the best of all possible worlds contain some kind of living breathing company, be it animal, mineral or vegetable, is chilly and empty, but this is one of those days when this doesn’t feel in any way a bad thing, even though Christmas is only four days away and I’ll probably spend it drinking myself into a stupor while wearing a Santa hat and singing Jingle Bells to Guinness The Dog. Actually most days it doesn’t feel like a bad thing – and maybe therein lies the rub.

But, So, Anyway. We walk up through the hilly little alleys of the neighbourhood, which some might say is a favela but to me is not, not yet, and around the lighthouse. From here you can see most of Olinda spreading out towards the sea and onwards to the north towards Paraiba and beyond. Then we walk down to the avenue, keeping to the shade, and I buy the Folha De Sao Paulo which in Pernambuco costs about as much as a small car. Even at this time it is so hot I can feel the skin on my neck crisping as I stand waiting for the cars to pass. I buy half a kilo of shrimp/prawns for lunch. On the way home I talk to Mother Sururu (so-called because she once gave me a pot of sururu) and her daughter Nanda. We talk about dogs, because Mother Sururu likes dogs a lot. Everything is quiet in the grassy square in front of the house except round 356 of the plastic bag wars has commenced and there are two un-plastic bagged bottles lying on the grassy bank in front of the house. I mutter something sarcastic under my breath about que povo educado mora nesse bairro and as I do so one of my neighbours comes out and gives me a dirty look from which I surmise that she may have heard me. The hell with her, Guinness The Dog and I resolve. Once back home I put on some Milton Nascimento and I make some acai juice with the new blender I bought yesterday (and I don’t know if its good or bad that such things – making juice in a new blender – still have the power to thrill). Then I make some coffee and some grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast and I go into the garden where I have breakfast and listen to Milton Nascimento and read the paper and Guinness The Dog sits at my feed in the shade from the papaya tree and in front of everything there is the sea glittering like a great silver dish. I give Guinness The Dog a refreshing hose down and then I take a shower in the garden and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin through the cold water.

Later on I fry the shrimp/prawns for lunch with a little lemon and garlic. On the artistic (or not, of course) front I have written this small piece of low-key rambling, I have read As cartomantes by Olavo Bilac as part of the read a crônica a day project. I have started translating The Psychological Benefits of Exercise into Portuguese, and I have written a little bit more (a very little bit more) of I Hope It Falls Down. I have also read a lot of The Collector by John Fowles, which is fantastic and a thousand times better in every way than Netherland by Joseph O’Neil, of which more later.

In the afternoon I take the bus to The Ex-Girlfriend’s house, a visit to which is long overdue. The Ex-Girlfriend is living in Bomba De Hermeterio, which again (and how many times am I going to say this?) is not somewhere where foreigners often venture in Recife. But Bomba is alright, the usual ragbag collection of little houses, plastic bags gusting down dusty streets, grim little businesses doing a little bit of grim business, people standing around doing not much at all because there really isn’t that much to do. Some people think that visiting somewhere like Bomba De Hermeterio is about as safe a thing to do as working as a knife thrower’s assistant (the girl who stands in front of the knives, that is) after the knife thrower has downed a couple of bottles of Pitu, but I’m lucky enough not to be one of them.

The Ex-Girlfriend, despite originally owning nothing except a mattress and a few other odds and ends I was able to give her, has put together a small, simple home, one that is touching in its neatness and her determination to have somewhere nice to live. The Ex-Girlfriend, actually, has come on in leaps and bounds since all the pei pei pei* (make the sound of the words – what does it sound like? No? Then try it with bang bang bang - and for information on all of this see entry dated 30th March 2008 and subsequent entries), and is going to go back to college to get her high school diploma, and has plans to bring her son and mother here from there. All of which gives me a warm feeling, knowing that I am almost entirely responsible for this upturn in her fortunes.

We go to a bar, and we have a few beers, and The Ex-Girlfriend magically produces R$5 from her pocket and buys us some grilled fish (this may be the first time ever The Ex-Girlfriend has contributed to a bar bill). The fish, with a little bit of lemon and some vinegar, is delicious. Two men in a state of extreme inebriation roll up. They order caldinho and pinga and then fall asleep in their chairs. The owner, a beefy armed woman called Monica, tries to rouse them. One stirs and pokes his compadre with a fork. The compadre swings a fist at his friend. He misses wildly. Monica’s husband arrives. He pulls up a chair and sits down at the table and puts his head in his hands and waits. Eventually the two men roll to their feet. They refuse to pay. Monica and her husband wait a little longer. Someone digs in a pocket and finds enough to cover the meagre bill. The two men stagger off into the night, and I think how it might be a little funny to think how the threat of an unpaid bill is treated with such patience in what is one of the world’s most violent countries, whereas in the same kind of bar in a neighbourhood in similarly dire financial straits in Ireland the situation most probably would have ended with one if not more of the parties involved spitting teeth onto the pavement.

After that, a family arrive. There is a son, of about eight, and the son is blind. He reaches for his father’s ear when he speaks to him and hangs on to it for reassurance that his father is listening and touches his father’s cheek the entire time. He becomes very animated in his refusal to eat the crab his mother wants to order. His mother buys him a packet of peanuts to placate him. And it is a moment both sad and beautiful enough to make one cry when he opens the packet of peanuts the wrong way up and digs into them with gusto and everyone notices and smiles and doesn’t say anything.

And then I go home, to where Guinness The Dog is waiting with a rapturous welcome.

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