Friday, 25 December 2009

Travel broadens the mind, so they say, though it probably depends on the destination and the purpose - you might not always learn that much about Mexican culture, for example, by spending ten nights in a four star resort in Cancun (though you’ll probably have a very nice time). I think about this recently as the plane dips its wings and southern England - black, grey and white and looking very Russia-following-scorched-earth-retreat-in-1812 - weakly swims into view through the gloaming. It also looks like the kind of place where the only form of life that is possible is one where people creep as quickly as possible from their beds to their cars to work and back again, and somewhere where it must be quite difficult to experience very much joy. Though I'm sure it's not that, of course.

Anyway. A month ago or so The Argument and I visited Belo Horizonte, my personal Brazilian Plymouth Rock and scene of many an exciting adventure involving Celine, The Ex-Girlfriend and others. We had a marvellous time, The Argument and I – lunching in fine fashion at bea-gah’s spectacular Mercado Central, drinking with Celine, visiting Bar do Jaime. We even spent three nights in Ouro Preto, which, with its chilly climes and gloomy mountain backdrop casts a far more historic and mysterious spell for me than parched and tropical (though also beautiful) Olinda. Though maybe that’s because I live in Olinda, and so am thoroughly used to its cobbled streets and 3562 colonial churches and jaw dropping views across Recife and the Atlantic, etcetera, etcetera.

Anyway, what I learnt on this trip was the following:

1) People in Belo Horizonte are, generally, taller than people in Recife. Though there are of course people in Recife who are taller than many people in Belo Horizonte.

2) People in Minas talk really loudly. Here’s a funny story for you, I said to The Argument when we arrived. And I told her about The Ex-Girlfriend From A Very Small Town In The Interior, who, following my suggestion that Belo Horizonte would be a fine place for her to live (she had recently graduated nursing school and was casting her career net far and wide), retorted not on your life, my impressively endowed* gringo pal, the people in Minas talk really loudly! Talk really loudly! How The Argument and I laughed at TEGFAVSTITI’s charming backwoods ways! Until, after a couple of days, we realised we had taken to flinching and leaning backwards a little every time a Mineiran chose to talk to (or rather shout at) us, such was the deafening verbal onslaught we knew would soon be coming our way. And what strange accents they have! I was even on occasion forced to correct their brutal massacring of the Portuguese tongue. You don’t pronounce it Fe-rrrrr-nando, I told Ana Galocoura, friend of The First Brazilian Ex-Girlfriend, it’s Fe-h-nando. Who knew that only nordestinos know how to speak proper?

3) Those employed in the customer service sector in Minas are somewhat more diligent than their counterparts in Recife. When paying a bill in Ouro Preto I chance a question or two with the rather fetching waitress, who is hunched over her calculator (The Argument is in the bathroom). Does it always rain this much? I ask. Silence, apart from the tapping of calculator buttons. Unperturbed, I try again. There aren’t many tourists around at the moment, are there? More silence. Hum. I appreciate that these aren’t the most interesting questions in the world, but is such coldness really warranted? And then the girl finishes her hard sums and looks up and gives me a big smile and starts answering my questions. At which point The Argument comes back and starts giving me the fish eye. We leave. The lesson learned being – in Recife chit chat comes before work and work should never be allowed to interrupt chit chat, whereas in Minas work comes before chit chat and chit chat should never be allowed to interrupt work. I know which I prefer, though my opinion may change based on whether I am the one working or the one being (or not being) attended to.

4) Other than in the nordeste, the Brazilian climate is almost as overrated as, say, French cuisine. Though admittedly in the nordeste, with its nine and a half months a year of cloudless skies and 33-36 degree temperatures (and two and a half months of 26-29 degree temperatures, slightly cloudy skies and the occasional heavy shower) we might be somewhat spoilt. In the norte it’s always hot but almost never sunny, and it rains a hell of a lot, and in the sul and sudeste it’s sometimes very hot but also quite cold a lot of the time. Now hot and cold is relative – for me even when Ouro Preto hit a chilly 18 degrees at night, while hardly as pavement-crackingly hot as Hellcife in mid-summer, it was still warm enough for big crescent moons of sweat to bloom across my back when hiking up some of the more preposterously steep streets. The Argument, a good pernambucanan, however, imagines herself to be on Scott’s expedition across the Antarctic. Three sweaters, a scarf and a woolly hat are hardly enough to brave the brutal weather. Sleeping hunched up against the cold, she develops a stiff neck. And when nature calls during the night, and she creeps off towards the bathroom, I am sure I hear her saying I am going outside and may be some time.

I do not know if this is a lot or a little to learn from a week’s holiday in another city. I did not come into contact with any lost indigenous tribes or find an untouched idyllic beach far from the beaten track. I did not marvel at the simpler way of life and the strength of the traditional family unit in Belo Horizonte. Perhaps then, I am just not a very good traveller, and must try harder.

Though really perhaps the most important thing I have learnt through recent travels I did not discover on this trip to Belo Horizonte but on the journey I am on now, home to Norn Iron for Christmas. What I learnt is this – it’s bloody hard work travelling in the Third World ™. Flying Recife to Belfast, as you might imagine, involves a number of connections and changes of plane - a precarious operation at the best of times, harder still the day before Christmas. Somewhere en route one of my connecting flights is delayed from 15.10 to 17.00. And then delayed again to 20.00. Weather conditions are blamed, though where and what the weather is no-one seems to know. The flight is delayed again, to 22.00. Passengers surround the airline information desk, but there is no-one there from the airline, just an airport information lackey who doesn’t really seem to know anything. Things are often this way here – customer care is rarely a priority. Also, people in this part of the world are not always patient and are quick to anger. The mood grows ugly. The flight is delayed again to 22.45. People make comparisons with other countries and ask each other if such things happen in places with better organised transport systems. Everyone is shouting and waving their fists. A baby starts to cry and the atmosphere is of general civil unrest. Finally at 2.00 am the flight is cancelled. Someone from the airline appears, accompanied by security guards. Meal vouchers are handed out though given inflated airport prices the vouchers will probably only be enough for a bottle of water and a packet of crisps and anyway most of the airport restaurants have closed. There is token mention of hotel accommodation being offered but the airline representative says we will have to wait for our bags to be unloaded and for a coach to arrive and it is already 3.00 am and we must be back at the airport to find another flight at 5.00 when the airline sales desk opens. We sleep on benches or on the floor. When the desk opens we are booked on the few other flights which still have seats (it’s now Christmas Eve). I am booked on the 11.05, only the airline has decided that even though the mysterious unfriendly weather has passed it’s no longer going to fly to where I want to go to and I will have to fly instead to another city two or three hours away and then get a bus to my destination. The plane is delayed three times and finally leaves at 13.30. On the plane there is no meal service but a girl comes round with a trolley. I ask for a coffee, because I am exhausted and very cold and have been waiting almost 24 hours for the flight and even then once we land I’m going to have to sit on a bus for three hours to get where I wanted to go in the first place. The girl asks me for two pounds or two euros and fifty eurocents. I tell the girl that I am very surprised that the company which has kept 200 people waiting 24 hours for their plane is now charging those same customers for a cup of coffee (I may or may not sprinkle my answer with a few words that I cannot repeat in a family orientated piece such as this). The girl shrugs and says there’s not much she can do about it. So I tell her that next time I need to travel from London to Belfast I’ll swim the feckin’ Irish Sea before I fly with a bunch of evil shysters like Father Dougal Airlines, more commonly known as Aer Lingus, again.

Happy Christmas!

* She might not really have said this part. Though that’s not to say it isn’t true, of course.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

When I wake I open the door and then the gate and look at the murky green or blue of the Atlantic there is nothing between the tip of my nose and Africa except miles of ocean. It is important to remember this when bank queues and traffic and the rudeness of ordinary life get you down – that a person from a small drizzly greenish grey rock in the North Atlantic (it would be pushing things to call it Europe) can live in a city (a busted but still shiny in parts jewel of a city) on the bony right shoulder of South America. This is easy to forget and remembering it still brings a little gasp of wonder to the lips. But then when I look down over the wall what I see is a small hilly range of shrapnel and shingle and gravel which a neighbour, building a second floor to her house, has dumped. Other people, walking past the gravel, have thought it an excellent burial ground for unwanted objects, so that now on top of the gravel there are plastic bags of rubbish, and old car tyres, and broken fans, and plastic coke bottles and old trainers.

In the same way if I walk up the hill towards the house late at night the cobblestones, smoothed by traffic and feet, gleam like gold under the orange street lights. But during the day there are pits and holes between the cobblestones where underwater pipes have burst, pits and holes big enough to impale a car tyre. The holes are so bad that someone (a local resident, obviously, because it’s unlikely that Olinda’s Oblomov-esque town council will ever stir themselves into action) has laid down sand and stones to smooth the way, or at least make it passable.

The Ferrari is in need of a wash, and after a few hours sitting in the burning sun is as hot as Hades. One of the plastic stripes that run along the roof has cracked and peeled off because of the heat. I put an extra t-shirt on the back seat (the one I am wearing now will be soaked in sweat by the time I arrive) and get in the car. Driving to work I bump over the pits and holes, and then onto the Rua Do Sol, which is divided in two because work is going on over on the other road which runs along the sea. The road by the sea was redeveloped recently, but the redeveloped road, made up of cobblestones in order to preserve the area’s colonial heritage, collapsed. I bump along Rua Do Sol, where there are some manholes without manhole covers.

After that things get better, and the road becomes a smoothly tarmaced four lane expressway (or carriageway), but by the shopping centre something is happening. Large groups of people are standing by the side of the road. On one day, it is because a boy on a motorcycle has been knocked down and killed – I drive past, the traffic has slowed, and see his body, covered by a blanket. All I see is a small patch of hair, exposed by the blanket. His hair is covered with blood.

On another day, when I take the bus, there are also crowds, but crowds of a different type. The traffic slows. The people – mostly young, all dark skinned and brightly dressed, maybe a couple of hundred strong – run into the road. Some boys throw tyres in front of the bus. The bus skids and stops. When it stops some other boys throw stones at the bus. To the left is the shopping centre, covered in Christmas lights and advertisements for plasma TVs. The bus roars forward and almost hits one of the boys. The boys, I think, do not want to rob the bus (it does not feel like a robbery, and there are far too many people involved) but want to protest about something, though there is a distinct lack of leadership or direction. The girls and women and older people by the side of the road jump up and down and cheer when the bus stops. The driver curses angrily, and someone behind me says, again? Later I find out that the ragged bunch of protesters are residents of one of the favelas that run along the side of the avenue, and who are likely to lose their homes in the near future because of construction works. This, obviously enough, is what they are protesting about.

At the traffic lights, at night, many car drivers (particularly drivers of newer, expensive cars) do not stop because they think they will be robbed. I have never been robbed at traffic lights, so I stop generally, believing that until I am robbed robbery in a personal context does not really exist or will not happen to me. Today, in the bright blue sunlight, I am immediately surrounded by black boys with no shirts or sandals. I am friends with one of the boys, to the extent that he asks me for money and I give him money and he washes my windscreen. Today I am lucky – he gives me some sweets that have burst from the bags that he also sells.

In front of the big public hospital in Derby, on another day, another bus, I look out the window and down at the car next to the bus. We are stopped in traffic. The car is small and battered and an old man is sitting in the passenger seat with his shirt open and his eyes closed and his mouth opening and closing like a fish. The driver, who I take to be his son, leans over and takes his hand and holds it close to his mouth and kisses it, then he puts his other hand on the old man’s chest as though feeling for something. After a few seconds of watching I understand that the old man is dying.

Then I drive on and over the flyover and the office buildings and the apartment buildings and the boys selling pirate football shirts and bottles of water and oranges. When the car stops in traffic or at traffic lights and the breeze of the sea drops away it is gruesomely hot. I reach Boa Viagem and drive along the avenue that takes me to work. The avenue on the other side, the one leading into town, is filled now with workers and people going to the beach, though at night it will be crowded with teenage prostitutes doped up on crack or booze or maconha or boredom or poverty or all five. I get to the school where I now work which is a school for upper middle class children. Many of the children have I-Phones and other expensive electronic devices. When I leave the school at night a woman is rooting through the trash cans of the apartment building next door. Two of her children are helping her.

In the newspaper – murder rates in Recife are down by 10%. Though the newspaper is filled with grisly murder stories from the preceding days (I count six). All the victims are poor and are killed for reasons that seem unbelievably cheap – suspicions of sexual betrayal, a used bicycle, twenty reais of maconha. On the TV news - a few decades of stable democracy, sustained economic growth, 14 million barrels of oil found under the sea. And a man filmed stuffing wads of 100 reais notes into his underpants in the office of the governor of the Distrito Federal.

This is the country where I live - not understood by most Brazilians any more than it is understood by foreigners, interpreted by most people (as things usually are) only by predictable and repetitive and self-serving and well-used stock opinions – Brazil’s a shithole that will never improve, Brazil is getting better, all politicians are corrupt, everyone is a thief, it’s all the Americans fault, it’s all the Portuguese fault. All of such opinions, of course, exclude the role of the individual, and the possibility that everyone is different and lazy stereotypes and generalizations do not always work. Really Brazil, like most things, is like a coin, filthy and broken and scratched on one side, shiny and bright on the other. Which is a very obvious thing to say, but perhaps what is not obvious is that it is impossible to see the whole coin, which is a mixture of both sides, by looking at only one side. Maybe the secret is to try and identify the narrow edge of the coin, where you can glimpse both sides at the same time, and then to realise that both the filthy and the broken and the scratched are part of the same thing as the shiny and the bright, and to try and understand things that way. I wouldn´t be so brazen as to suggest that I always manage to look at things in this way, in fact I rarely do – but when I remember I try, which in a life of some wonder and happiness but little obvious success or achievement is about as much as I can say about anything.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Sportswriters (and carrying on from last week´s themes of irony and misunderstanding, can I just make it clear that I´m not really claiming to be a sportswriter, I´m just making an observation about sportswriters) are often blessed or cursed by the sporting landscape they write about. The great baseball writer Roger Angell, for example, was lucky enough to write about characters with names like Dizzy Dean, Virgil Trucks, Enos Slaughter, Goose Gossage and Vida Blue, as well as chronicling baseball at a time when the game was indelibly linked to American culture and history and moments such as The Shot Heard Around The World were as vivid and memorable as presidential elections, while Roger Kahn lived with the Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers for a year (or a lifetime) and so in The Boys of Summer wrote about what it meant when Robinson broke the race barrier in baseball. Roger Angell also got to write about the Amazin’ New York Mets of the 1960s, simultaneously the worst and most wildly supported baseball team in baseball history, which might give you some idea about where this little tale is going to end up.

I didn’t really want to write about Santa this week, because it´s football and not everybody likes football and Crime and Punishment and Don Quixote and The Great Gatsby don’t talk about football, not even once (though Gatsby does include a few baseball references) and therefore how can I hope to write a timeless classic if all I do is waffle on about football (though there are probably more essential reasons as to why I’m not writing a timeless classic than football).

But it’s Santa, and on Saturday O Mais Querido won the Copa Pernambuco, beating Central from Caruaru (or Ballymena) 4-3. Which might not seem like a lot, and really in The Big List of Sporting Events the competition probably ranks somewhere beneath the Collegio Arraial De Bom Jesus (where The Argument works) Girl’s Under 11 Netball Tournament. (Rumour has it that some of Santa’s current galaticos tried out for the CADBJGU11NT but didn’t make the cut).

But, still. A little historical perspective – when growing up in Belfast I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to support The Reverend Ian Paisley’s Boys Club XI, more commonly known as Linfield FC (feel good hit of the summer – we’re up to our necks in Fenian blood, surrender or you’ll die). The good thing about supporting Linfield was that they won, on average, 27 cups and trophies and silver pots a year (the Irish League being even more bizarro world confusing than the Brasileirao). Which was all very nice and all, and even seemed like the normal way of things. But then I left Norn’ Iron for ever and ever, and happily forgot about Linfield FC and all such shenanigans. And after that – 20 years (almost) of watching rubbish football teams in England and Brazil (namely Manchester City, Atletico Mineiro and Santa Cruz), and thousands of pounds and reais and hours wasted, and not one little trinket, bauble, or Christmas tree angel to show for it! Relegations, oh yes, relegations I know. How many? Ten? Fifteen? But trophies? Nada, nowt, zilch. And for Santa themselves, of course, the suffering has been even worse, as previously documented in these pages.

Until now. Peter Robb, author of A Death In Brazil, maybe the best book ever written about Brazil by a non-Brazilian (or even by a Brazilian not named Gilberto Freyre or Euclides Da Cunha), writes that the nordeste is home to the greatest concentration of poor people in the Americas, to which I can only add that Arruda on match day might be home to the greatest concentration of poor people in the nordeste. (A Death In Brazil is full of piquant observation and great sentences – one of my favourites being Rio is huge and lovely and terrifying. Sao Paulo is huger and more terrifying and not lovely at all).

This makes Arruda a generally safe but distinctly edgy place, and also means that Santa might just have the most dedicated and raucous supporters in Brazil, given that football probably occupies a more tender place in the heart of someone who has few pleasures and fewer options in life than it might in the heart of someone who squeezes in going to the game between lunch at Spettus Grill (which may be found, of course, in Boa Viagem Uber Alles) and a trip to Cirque Do Soleil in the evening (ok, so Cirque Do Soleil has left Recife now, but who can pass up the opportunity of making sarcastic reference to an event that charges R$400 (or something) to watch a bunch of French-Canadian clowns jumping on a trampoline? Apparently there aren’t even any lions or tigers, which makes it a pretty piss poor excuse for a circus in my book).

Saturday’s game is a fine example of all things tricolor. After the teams drew 2-2 in Ballymena last week, all Santa have to do is draw 0-0 or 1-1, or even (what a concept!) win the second game. 20,000 roll up to Arruda for a competition where normally games are played on weekday afternoons and tickets are not even sold and Sport and Nautico field junior teams. 20,002 if you include The Argument and me. The Argument, used to the cosy confines of the socios section at Nauticinho, is not impressed with the wild west saloon bar ambient of Arruda. People don’t take their shirts off at Nautico, she says, a reference to the fact that most people around us aren’t wearing shirts (or shoes or sandals either). The huge Inferno flag rolls up over our heads and little bits of plastic fall on top of us. Uuuugh, says The Argument. Then everyone starts bouncing up and down and shouting oooh Inferno aiii, and even sing a song about how Nautico are so little and have so few supporters that they could all fit in a fuscinha (VW Beetle). The Argument is not amused. The game starts and the sky goes black with thunder clouds and it’s very hot and very muggy and now everyone is bouncing up and down and singing oooh Inferno aiii again (one of the unique things about Santa, it seems to me, is that about 60% (and probably more) of the team’s supporters associate themselves with Inferno Coral and wear Inferno shirts and sing Inferno songs. This is a much higher number than at most other Brazilian teams, where the torcida organizadas represent a fairly small percentage of the clubs’ overall support. Again, it all adds to the slightly end-of-the-world feeling one gets at Santa games).

The game itself is Santa-in-a-tin. After 3 minutes Santa’s Gonçalves, caught distracted by a pretty white bird flying across the black clouds, lets the ball roll under his foot and someone from Central runs through and scores. We’re all human, he says after the game, we were born to make mistakes. Never a truer word spoken. Irritated, a few minutes later he rolls his hefty bulk up the other end and scores an equaliser. Everyone jumps up and down and sings Oooh Inferno aiii. Then Santa score again (Joelson) and again (Joelson 2) and again (300 year old veteran Gaucho). 4-1 Santinha at half-time! Anyone other than myself would be celebrating. 4-1!, squeaks The Argument, Santa might score 10! I give her a dark look. Ha! With five minutes to go it’ll be 4-3 and we’ll all be on our knees praying for the final whistle, I tell her.

Which is, oddly, exactly how it turns out. Only Central score three goals, not two, to make it 4-4, which would have meant the cup going back to Ballymena on the away goals rule. A nice man with a yellow flag, though, decides that Central’s fourth goal is offside, which sparks a huge ruckus (or even a rumpus) amongst the Central players, and 432 players are sent off. And then the referee blows his whistle, and the riot police come onto the pitch to protect him and the man with the yellow flag from the Central players, and the Santa players run around the pitch with the big golden cup. Gaucho takes his socks off and throws them into the tricolor hordes. Oooh Inferno aiii, everyone sings, for variation. And then The Argument and I take the bus into town, rolling past huge throngs of smiling people in Santa and Inferno shirts standing at the bus stops. Maybe it’s the start of something for Santa, says The Argument, looking happy, and maybe it is. The Christmas lights are on in some of the squares around Avenida Norte and Encruzilhada. We go to Recife Antigo, where we drink with The Argument’s hard-living chums until 1am, and then we take another bus home, running across the Buarque De Macedo Bridge to catch it, the lights of the city glittering in the black water of the river underneath.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A quick aside, before we get started - I have received some correspondence from an old friend residing in the fine neighbourhood of Good Jesus, Belo Horizonte. We might, in tribute to the greatest cultural export his admirable country has ever produced, call this friend Celine - a name I feel sure will be to his liking. Celine is of course Canadian, and to be Canadian is a wonderful thing – most Canadians I know, including my friend in Recife, Small Shoe, and my marvelous Cousin Joanne, are open, generous, welcoming, funny and just plain nice. In fact if there is a negative quality one may attribute to the Canadian people, I cannot think of it - other than perhaps to say that the average Canadian’s relationship to irony is approximately that of the average Bornean tribesperson’s relationship to a US F-15 jet fighter passing overhead – it is to be gaped at, pointed at, even admired, but ultimately will remain a large, mysterious object flying thousands of feet above one’s head and may therefore, sadly, never be fully understood. (This is probably old news, and best illustrated by famous Canuck Alanis Morissette, who as everybody knows wrote a song called Ironic about people dying in air crashes – which is not really all that ironic).

This one glaring fault is rather a pity, given that the currency of this blog might well be described as irony (rather than, say, wisdom). Celine was outraged, it seems, and even went so far as to call me stupid and ignorant (and who’s to say he isn’t right?) because I said in last week’s piece that I didn’t really know why American Big Business was a bad thing. Celine was apoplectic that anyone could be so ill-informed, and so sent me some remarkable documents showing US and CIA involvement in the Brazilian military coup of 1964, which lead to the doubtful presidency of our good friend and neighbour White Castle. Even better, Celine also promised to reveal secrets about scurrilous US goings on in Cuba, El Salvador and some kind of spat in SE Asia during the 1970s of which I myself have heard only rumours. It may even be, according to Celine, that the Americans never really put a man on the moon, and that it was all television trickery! (Actually this is quite a commonly held opinion in Brazil). I can only thank Celine for this information, and apologise profusely for my ignorance, and point readers in the direction of his excellent photos, which really do look exactly like the real thing, and which can be found at

Though Celine raises an interesting point. I felt that I could make such flippant passing reference to US subterfuge in Brazil because I believe that I have a vague idea of who most of the people reading this blog are (it’s not hard when one’s readership numbers in the tens rather than the tens of thousands), and therefore can make (possibly rash) assumptions as to their understanding of this kind of thing and things in general. For example, I rely on the assumption that I can make jokes about Canadians like the one above and people will understand that I don’t hate Canadians and I am not a virulent racist (and if I was I’d hardly waste my time getting all stirred up about Canada). I believe that most people reading understand that I have a little (emphasis on the little) idea of what those naughty CIA boys got up to in Brazil pre and post military coup, and therefore don’t need to mention it, and I also believe that most people reading have themselves a little (or perhaps more than a little) knowledge of the same subject, and therefore don’t need me to tell them about it.

But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I really have no idea who is reading all this cobblers. Perhaps some people reading it hate me and it, and read it just to vent their own spleen, much in the way that I am strangely drawn to re-reading Man And Boy. Perhaps an Unabomber or two is reading it and finding weird subliminal messages hidden between my endless druthering about Santa Cruz. Perhaps I am inspiring cult fan groups. Perhaps some female readers will soon be sending me their underwear. Perhaps no-one is reading at all. Who knows? I certainly don’t, which manages to be both the beauty and the agony of it all at the same time.

Anyway. The little aside wasn’t so little after all (they rarely are). And so, feeling more like Bras Cubas than ever (modernistic little side comments to the reader, meandering narrative style, very little of substance to say), down to business.

Of which there is very little. Recife basks in scalding summer temperatures. I drive to work. I drive home from work. So much ho, so much hum. I think I know what’s wrong, and no amount of summer flowers blooming in the garden, or palavras, or Pavement reunion tours, or Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO, or viewings of Inglourius Basterds in Recife’s wonderful little Alice In Wonderland style Teatro Do Parque, is going to make it right. The problem is that I have changed neither address, employer or potential life partner in over a year, which breaks the Golden Rule Of How To Be Happy, which is to change something important in your life at least once a year to avoid boredom. Still, if I’m being punished, it’s a pleasant enough punishment.

So with no stories to tell I thought about writing a little pastiche in the style of JMG Le Clézio, who I am currently trying to read (a fruitless pastime). Something like - over the town the sun baked down – it was white and incredibly hot, so hot that it split the hard crystallite diamonds of the concrete paving stones into two, and then four, and then eight – between the rivened cracks the armoured steely body of an ant crawled over the ratcheted sharp metallic body of an other ant. Gross woke up with a headache – his head felt like it would explode – arches of indigo and cerise and crimson and yellow blasted and blasted at the inside of his brain. Though to really be Le Clézio-esque I would have to expand those few lines out over a hundred pages. But then I thought if one can’t really manage to make head nor tail of things when reading a writer then one shouldn’t perhaps try to write like him (though the description does well enough to tell of walking the parched streets of Recife in November any time after 7am and before 4pm).

Which leaves me, once again, with nothing very much to say. Of Brazil all seems to be toddling along nicely enough, the usual old one and a quarter steps forward and one step back, though accompanied as always by an endless deluge of media nay-saying that allows Brazilians who should know better to wring their hands and say oh woe oh woe oh woe a lot. Brazilian self-loathing is a curious thing – during a conversation regarding things that should and shouldn’t be banned a colleague posits the theory that topless sunbathing should remain prohibited here because Brazilians aren’t educated enough for such a thing and then goes on to paint a fairly gruesome picture of the gang rapes and sexual assaults on the beaches of Recife that would ensue if the city’s female population were to remove one half of their bikinis. Which seems to me, I must say, rather fanciful – for now, at least, Recifense males seem generally able to control themselves when confronted with acres of exposed female flesh, so it seems unlikely that the removal of a further small piece of nylon would cause such a terrible breakdown of public order. (And of course it’s not really Brazilian self-loathing at all – because the speaker of such words is always making the point that he isn’t, of course, such a feral beast – it’s his countrymen who are letting the side down in such fashion. If only everyone were like me, things would be different, he might as well be saying. Furthermore the individual in question, a portly fifty something married gentleman, followed up his discourse on Brazilian moral decay by stating that if were he to find himself dying a slow agonizing death his greatest regret would be that he had never eaten (the usual apologies for the local parlance) a really fat black woman. Which might suggest he has a little ways to go before reaching truly urbane metrosexual sophistication).

So with every other conversational topic rendered useless, all that remains to talk about, as always, is football. Santa have roared their way into the final of the juniors-and-veterans-free-for-all that is the Copa Pernambuco, which for most isn’t much, but for Santa is a hell of a lot, and spotty adolescent colts such as Natan, Léo, Elvis and Jefferson have teenage tricolorettes going all weak at the knees. Sport, just to show that real life can be like the movies, and that the bad guy always gets his desserts at the end, have been relegated to Serie B in marvelously humiliating fashion. Conspiracy theories abound – wandering around aimlessly by the seafront, I get into an argument with a Sport fan at the news stand. I told yer man there six months ago that the CBF and the referees would put Sport in the second division! he yelps - a reference to an errant referee’s whistle that cost Sport a goal against Palmeiras. He didn’t, of course, he’s simply labouring under the mass popular (and particularly Brazilian) delusion that nothing is ever anyone’s fault or responsibility and that dark forces (in this case a Rio-favouring CBF) move mysteriously amongst us, shaping our hapless fates. Which they probably do, though not on this occasion. Sport are going down because they´re bobbins, I want to say, but don’t, because it’s before breakfast and I have a strict no street fighting before breakfast rule.

Nautico, to The Argument’s chagrin, are soon to join Sportinho in the second tier, leaving Pernambuco without a team in the top division (and the nordeste down to a measly two representatives – Vitoria from Salvador and the happily promoted Ceará). The Brasileirão is galloping to a fantastically rambunctious finish, with São Paulo, Flamengo, Palmeiras and Atlético Mineiro (Galoooooo, as they’re better known, if I haven’t mentioned it before, are something of my lost love, following a year as an Atleticano in Belo Horizonte, and of course Inferno Coral’s longstanding alliance with Atletico’s Galoucura) all doing their level best not to be champions, and Fluminense and Botafogo doing their level best not to be relegated along with Nautico and Sportinho. Hardly a game goes past without refereeing scandals, and Keystone Cops punch ups, and riot police on the field – Mauricio and Obina, Palmeiras teammates, kick seven bells out of each other during a defeat against Gremio*, the entire Cerro Porteno (Paraguay) team go mentalist against Fluminense at the Maracana while losing the Sul Americana semi-final, engage in fantastic Chuck Norris vs Bruce Lee karate action at the final whistle, and end up in the slammer. Shaggy from Scooby Doo lookalike and Fluminense craque Fred calls them a bunch of marginals. Such is the excitement in Rio, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte that crowds at the Morumbi, Maracanã and Minerão over the next few weekends are likely to be greater than the population of several small European countries. Taken in by all the excitement, The Argument and I resolve to fly to BH for Galoooooo’s last game of the season on December 6th against Corinthians (of which more nearer the time). It’s all very Brasileirão, which, while it might no longer rival Spain and Italy and England in terms of quality of football and hefty salaries, is still a hell of a lot more exciting than all three put together. And in a way, in its combination of occasional incompetence and corruption and frequent lack of personal discipline, and joyfulness, and tragedy, and once-in-a-blue-moon glory, is as good a metaphor as anything else for the rest of the country, and I suppose, life in general.

Just a final note before I go – it would have been nice to have been able to make some kind of commemorative mention of Oirland’s incredible achievement of qualifying for the next World Cup by beating France in Paris. With Algeria having qualified yesterday afternoon (and large swathes of North London therefore awash with celebration), and Oirland winning 1-0 in Paris, I even imagined a gringoish cross-cultural meeting in the street between an ecstatic Mohamed from Algiers (or Finsbury Park) and Kevin from Cork (or Kilburn). You beat France in Paris, my friend, well done, well done!, says Mohamed. And you beat, ah, right then, who the hell did you beat anyway? says Kevin. Egypt, my brother, Egypt! Much hugging. Only of course it never happened, because Thierry Henry, admirably doing his bit for cross-cultural bonding, decided to play by Páirc An Chrácaigh rules. Terry didn’t just handle the ball, as I´m sure you know, he caught it, stuffed it up his jumper, smoked a couple of Gitanes, read some of the naughty bits from Madame Bovary, took a few sips of an impeccable 2006 Bourgogne Chardonnay, fiddled around with his minitel, then took the ball out from under his jumper and kicked it onto the head of one of his pals (probably called Jean-Claude or Marcel) who bundled it into the net. Ah, well. I gave up on football ever making me happy years ago.

* Minutes after this Palmeiras announce that neither player will ever wear the team’s shirt again. Crikey.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

You look like a gringo, Suel says to the The Hero (unnamed, I think) of Patricia Melo’s O Matador (The Hero has recently dyed his hair peroxide blonde as the result of losing a bet on Palmeiras vs. São Paulo). The Hero challenges Suel to a duel and kills him. You called me veado, says The Hero, just before he shoots Suel in the head (veado being Brazilian popular slang for homosexual). No I didn’t, says Suel, I called you a gringo. Same thing, says The Hero.

Which seems like as good an introduction as any to a bit more mindless chit-chat about what it is to be a foreigner in this most foreign of countries (finding yourself a foreigner living (as opposed to visiting) anywhere is a bit strange, and probably not part of anyone’s life plan. If people even have life plans. I, probably quite obviously, don’t. I can’t help comparing myself every now and again to Stupid Phillipe, the French boyfriend of a girl I once knew in London, whose English was so bad that he once brushed his teeth with shaving cream. Or perhaps he just drank too much).

Recently Recife’s most sensational scandal-sheet (an impressive enough title to hold, given that all of Recife’s four newspapers are pretty sensational and scandalous, though two of them pretend not to be), Aqui, has been all of a stir because a Belgian man called Olivier Xavier Albert Shoonjans, who knocked down four people with his beach buggy in Recife on the 22nd of September, killing one of them, has been released on r$1000 bail. This is neither the time nor the place to comment on a foolish Belgian and his criminal or otherwise activities, other than to say if guilty Mr Shoonjans should obviously suffer whatever punishment fits the crime (reading the collected works of Tony Parsons in a never-ending loop for 50 years, for example).

What called my attention though, was Aqui’s curious reporting style. Gringo Behind Bars!, roared the headline on a Monday (which was also Brazil’s most Brazilian of holidays – The Day of The Dead, when all are expected to pay their respects to the deceased. Thankfully I have no deceased to pay respects to, though I suppose I could wander over to Arruda to say a little prayer for Santa and their corpse-ridden 2008 and 2009 seasons). Anyway, back to Aqui. On Wednesday, Page 2 – Foreigner arrested yesterday!

Now maybe I’m being a little paranoid about things, but it just all seems a bit askew. I know one shouldn’t compare cultures and habits, but even in good ol’ dyed-in-the-wool racist hotbeds like Norn’ Iron the mainstream press might turn squeamish at the thought of blazing foreigners are nasty and never trust a gringo headlines such as this. Still, I tell myself, it’s Aqui, it’s a gutter press tabloid, it’s not representative of Brazilians in general. Except, except, except. Like most gutter press tabloids Aqui has perfectly nailed its public with a heady brew of photos of bloody corpses, naked women, and a news content that deals almost exclusively with gruesome murder, football, and novelas. And so really Aqui is pretty much as representative as it gets.

Am I being neurotic? Probably. But. There’s the G word itself. Most people in Brazil will tell you that gringo doesn’t have any negative connotations, and that it just means foreigner. Which is poppycock, obviously. Because most (if not all) of the time when Brazilians say gringo it’s accompanied by a healthy bit of eye rolling (such as he paid r$10 for a packet of chewing gum! Well what do you expect, he’s a gringo (eye roll-eye roll-eye roll)) and nudge-nudging. So at the very least then, gringo means a bit dumb and with more money than sense.

Gringo also seems to mean, generally speaking, American (though having said this on my way back from the bakery this morning someone asked me if I was French – perhaps because of my dashing Gallic good looks) which, as might be imagined, gets right on the tits of anyone who isn’t American - remembering always, students, that there’s a hell of a lot of difference between dictionary definitions and what people are usually thinking when they use a word. A couple of years ago when living in humpin-jumpin downtown Recife, I stopped off for a chicken patty (to paraphrase very fine (at least memory and nostalgia and my new found pride in all things Irish – a gringo story in itself, this one, how one starts blathering about how great (or war torn, depending on the context) the oul’ country is/was, now that one finds oneself a jimmy foreigner, and yes, should the Black South wangle their way past France in the World Cup play-offs, I’ll probably be wearing a Liam Brady replica shirt and listening to The Wolftones and singing 40 Shades of Green come June 2010) whiskey drinking fag-smoking Irish comic Dave Allen, only your God knows how else to translate coxinha) on the way home.* An old man was propped up by the chicken patty stand, complaining about the new traffic regulations on Conde Da Boa Vista. It’s all a load of bollox, isn’t it, he said, turning to me. Whatever, I think I might have said, being tired and not generally in the mood for octagenerian whinging. Things turned a bit ugly. Don’t care? Of course you don’t. You’re all the bloody same, aren’t you? says Old Man. Come here for a good time and don’t give a bollox about Brazil. We? I said. Who, exactly, is we? You, he said, pointing a finger somewhere near my chest for emphasis. Americans. I bristled and thought about giving Old Man not just a geography and history lesson but also a chicken patty in the face. I didn’t, though, because carrying out acts of violence against old men is not generally the way one should live one’s life.

And the thing is that it wasn’t his fault. Brazil and South America in general have a long history of being abused by foreign powers (I’m assuming here some of the people reading this have spent most of the 15th-20th centuries living on Mars, or in Ballymena, or alternatively that some of them are readers of the never-knowingly insightful or profound**) – the Portuguese and the Spanish a very long time ago, American Big Business more recently (I don’t know exactly how American Big Business has abused Brazil, particularly, but I’m sure it has, because everyone tells me American Big Business is A Very Bad Thing). You’re rich and we’re poor, is the general thinking here, and like all people who think themselves poor and look over the fence at their richer neighbours, it’s generally held by the poor neighbour that it’s the fault of the rich neighbour that he or she hasn’t got enough money to fix his or her roof or hang a new door (the irony here is that Brazil itself is as rich as Midas, in terms of natural resources and industrial punch – not that ordinary Brazilians get their paws on any of it). And I suppose if I was Brazilian I’d probably assume most pasty-arsed white folk wandering around lost outside my house played for Team USA! Team USA! (population 500 squillion) as opposed to Team Norn’ Iron (population 500 and some sheep).

But still. Am I wrong to get a bit peeved when people think I say y’all and mom and pop and vote Bobama? (I probably would vote Bobama, but that’s not the point.) That Brazilians generally divide the world into two nationalities (there’s an epic amount of generalisation going on in this article, but bollox to it – how the hell else am I supposed to talk about gringoism without referring to national stereotypes and such like?) – (1) Brazilian and (2) gringo? And therefore that it matters not that I’m from Northern Ireland and that centuries of culture and history (fairly crap culture and history, admittedly, but still) get wiped out in one fell swoop and I get lumped in with sworn enemies like the bloody English? Or that a friend of The Argument who is married to a thoroughly nice chap from, let’s say Argentina, warns The Argument to be careful if she is thinking of hitching her wagon to a gringo’s horse - because they’re not like us, you know. That when I buy a second hand copy of Capitaes Da Areia in the street for R$5 it’s not the perfectly honest and non-malandro book seller who plays the g-word card, but my charming, loveable and altogether marvellous friend The Portuguese Teacher, who says you probably paid too much because you’re a gringo. How much would you bloody pay for a mint condition Jorge Amado?, I think I shout, 50 pissing centavos?

And I know (again) that it’s nobody’s fault, all this Brazilian bunging together, just ropy (or entirely absent) geography lessons and the occasional insularity of the South America character. And that the average British subject of course couldn’t tell his or her Caracas from his or her Quito, and that Her Majesty’s Finest even on occasion choose to gun down a Brazilian house painter on the Underground because he looked a bit Arab, sarge.

But, still.

Oh dear. I’ve completely lost the thread of my argument, I confess, to the extent that there ever was an argument. So. What’s the secret to eternal gringo happiness? Just relaxing and not caring? I admire very much my friend The Quiet American, who spent a couple of months in Recife earlier this year. Off he marched to Arruda for the Santa–Sport classico. Resplendent in sandals, white knee socks, baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses last seen being used by Officer Poncharello in C.H.I.P.S, gigantic and extremely pale, he looked, as he stumbled around perilously close to the Inferno hordes, like nothing so much as a large, amiable polar bear knocking back a few palavras at the hungry hyena watering hole. Look, I think he might have said, I’m a gringo. I look like a gringo. I’ll always be a gringo. What the hell’s the point of trying to hide it?

Quite right. Maybe the ones who don’t try to hide it are the happiest of all. I’m thinking about the fun lovin’ boys and girls from England or the US who get transferred to São Paulo with work, or marry upper middle class Brazilian women (or occasionally, but rarely, men) and ship themselves lock stock and barrel over (or down) the Atlantic. They arrange get-togethers in Irish Pubs and rugby and cricket matches on, and seem to quite often live in João Pessoa, well, because it’s nice. And what’s wrong with nice? They know they’re gringotastic, they don’t try too hard to be Brazilian, they like drinking agua de coco on the beach and don’t always take that much of an interest in Brazilian culture or history or get to know too many of Brazil’s worker bees (though some admirable souls both take an interest in culture and history and mingle with the proletariat***). Good luck to them, these number 1 gringoes, I say, for not worrying too much about things, not trying to be something they’re not, and for simply concentrating on the most important thing of all – being happy.

You can of course go to the other extreme too, and allow yourself to get sucked into the toenails of Brazilian life. This will provide you with hours of tremendous fun (provided you like boozing, football, girls who wear the tiniest clothes in the civilised world, and most importantly want to meet some of the nicest people you’re ever likely to meet, who, oddly enough, seem less obsessed with whether you’re gringo or not than many of their supposedly more educated countrymen and women) – and you’ll certainly get some good stories, and will learn an awful lot about what’s important and what’s not in life, and will generally be a much better person than you were before. The toilets are foul though, and afterwards you might well find yourself looking after an ex-girlfriend or two with a bullet hole in her arm. Probably, also, you won’t be able to stick it very long, and soon you’ll find yourself living in a nice flat or apartment with SKY TV (gringoes are often endowed with lifestyle choices and an upward social mobility that Brazilians are not) with only the memories of the time you spent as a number 2 gringo left.

There’s even a rather ridiculous kind of gringo rivalry. Look at them, one gringo might say to another, pointing at a coach load of German tourists wandering the streets of Olinda. What a bunch of gringoes. The inference being that the speaker, by wont of his tremendously successful integration into Brazilian life, or perhaps his excellent Portuguese, no longer considers himself a gringo at all. I’m pretty much half-Brazilian these days, the particularly brass-necked (or wood-faced) might even say. These people, the number 3 gringoes, are the unhappiest of all, it seems to me, because they spend their time measuring levels of gringoness, and desperately trying not to be gringo themselves, and as a result of their obsession become the most gringo of all.

I’ve been guilty of it all myself, of course, on more than one occasion. I’ve made fun of number 1 gringoes, which I feel bad about sometimes (but not always), and tried my hand at being a number 2 gringo. In weaker moments I´ve probably made a few number 3 gringo type comments. But I’m tired now, and not as young as I used to be, and maybe it’s time to stop thinking decent restaurants with nice toilets are the devil’s work and an evil capitalist plot to maintain class oppression in Brazil, and to accept that shopping centres, while unlikely to ever truly be art, are at least convenient.

Because anything else – trying to become Brazilian, or thinking you’re somehow better than other people in the same boat as yourself because you know the difference between caju and caja – seems to me rather foolish, if not downright hilarious, because in the end we’re all gringoes, we always will be, and we’re all doomed, doomed, doomed. But, I suppose, or at least hope, happy.

* A R$10 prize to anyone who manages to unravel, or even get to the end of, this sentence.

** Something of a Gerald Ratner moment, this, as my entire readership goes up in flames.

*** Ironic usage - explanatory footnote for the benefit of North American readers (he said, generalising like a good Brazilian should)

Friday, 6 November 2009

Reading Dostoevsky is good for considering the balance of one’s soul, and while I haven’t been reading Dostoevsky recently, I was in desperate need of a punchy-literary style soul related opening to this piece. Taking a balance of my own lilywhite soul recently, I conclude that it’s a little on the skimpy side, with precious little hope of barging its way to the front in any bouts of afterlife queue jumping.

This in mind, I resolve to save myself from the hellfires of eternal damnation and become a Buddhist. A rather heavy drinking and smoking Buddhist, that is, and one who is partial to the odd carne do sol and chips every once in a while, and one who has from time to time fornicated and plans one day to fornicate again (sorry Ma, but fornicate is too good a word not to use every once in a while). Do Buddhists fornicate? I remain unenlightened. Isn’t Roberto Baggio a Buddhist? And didn´t he shack up with Madonna for a bit? Which seems like it might be quite conclusive evidence for the Buddhists-heart-fornication bumper sticker argument.

So if I can’t be a proper Buddhist, can I at least be a Buddhistant? A medium to hard drinking Irish Protestant who thinks Buddhists are nice, but isn’t going to shave his head or give up any of the good things in life like cigarettes and booze and carne do sol any time soon? Maybe. But so far my Buddhist conversion hasn’t got much further than liking incense because it makes the house smell less damp and - stifle the sniggers at the back, please - um, going to yoga classes.

Because it’s nice to go to yoga classes! It’s nice to ride my bike (with its shiny new Santa Cruz stickers) along the beach at seven in the morning and wander still sleepy into the Buddhist temple! And it is a real life Buddhist temple, with monks and everything (though from the outside it looks a bit like a Job Centre in 1980s Chelmsleywood) and which smells of incense (obviously), and has instructions over the bathroom sink about how to wash your hands in a proper Buddhist way (wrists are more important than I realised). It’s nice to take my shoes off and put on my rather fetching white Buddhistant yoga pants! It’s nice to sit next to my companions (nine ladies of a certain age) on a little blue mat with my legs crossed!

Though, try as the monks and the little walnut-faced maybe half-Chinese Buddhist yoga master might, Buddhistant or Buddhistolic (I remain unconvinced that my colleagues, probably good Brazilian Catholics, have given up booze and fags and meat either) yoga in Brazil is still, well, rather Brazilian.

At the beginning it´s all very much as you might expect – we all sit on our little blue mats and do some stretching. Don’t push yourself too hard, the yoga master, whom we might call Yoda, tells me. It’s your first time. Do as much as you can. Yeah right, grandma, I think, looking at my creaky-hipped competition. Then there’s a bit of put-your-left-leg-in-and-take-your-left-leg-out hoky coky action, and the Atlantic glistens outside the windows, and the palm trees rustle in all the balminess, and the big bright blue sky glows above all of it, and a few Buddhist statues smile beatifically down as though to say could be worse, couldn’t it? And I agree – it could definitely be worse.

But it’s a stressful business, yoga in Brazil. Yoda speaks very quietly, so I have to keep opening my eyes to see what’s going on. And I keep thinking about things that I have to do, like cut my toenails and wash my socks and ring The Argument. So it’s quite hard to concentrate, really. Outside doesn’t help. Just as everyone is getting all nice and relaxed, and the only sound is the pan-pipes or the whale mating ritual or whatever it is on the Ministry of Sound Presents The Clubbers Guide To Buddhism CD that’s playing, a car passes in the street playing Avioes Do Forro’s post modern rendering of the Faust myth - olha a barriguinha, olha a barriguinha (look at the little fat belly, look at the little fat belly) at teeth-crunching volume. The windows in our little Buddhist sanctuary shake. The car seems to have parked up outside the Buddhist temple, because the music continues. And continues. In the military transit hotel across the road a gang of squaddies are doing some kind of work which involves hitting hammers against metal very hard. Two men in the street are talking in very loud voices. Cabra safado, I said, cabra safado! (Naughty goat, I said, such a naughty goat!), says one. The other one laughs. Another two men are having an argument about money. Their voices grow louder. There come two loud retorts like the sound of a pistol being fired. Some of the less focused Buddhistants or Buddhistolics run to the window to have a look. Just a car backfiring, laughs one of them, sitting back on her little blue mat. Yoda glares at her. Order resumes.

I try hard to get into the swing of things, but I am having difficulty aligning little fat belly with a sense of inner calm. And wondering just who has been a naughty goat and what he did to earn the title. I close my eyes very tight, though I can’t hear a word Yoda is saying, what with the banging and the music and the shooting (sorry, car backfiring) and the yelling. Still it is nice to sit in the big bright room and feel the warm air pass over my face. But everything seems to be taking a very long time. I start to thing about things I have planned for this morning, and wonder if the supermarket has opened yet.

There are a few minutes of silence (inside at least). I wonder has Yoda fallen asleep. After a while, when I hear a general rustling, and I think everyone is probably standing up, I stand up too and stretch my leg out in quite an ambitious fashion. Check it out, grandma, I think to myself. I open my eyes. Grandmas 1-9 are doing headstands. And I can’t remember the words to ommmm.

The Buddhistolic (or Buddhistant) bastards.

NB: Readers are advised to enjoy all this levity while they can, because next week it’s really going to kick off with the next instalment in the gringoism series…

Thursday, 29 October 2009

In the preface to the second edition of De L’Amour, Marie-Henrie Beyle (who presumably opted for the pseudonym Stendhal as he was terribly embarrassed about having a girl’s name) confesses to having written for what he imagined to be a reading public of about 100 people, or as he called them, the happy few. Now with over two hundred people accidentally stumbling across this blog whilst looking for or, I realise I am, compared to ol’ Marie Stendhal at least, something of a Dan Brown or even a Tony Parsons. This makes me very happy, but as former buccaneering, moustachioed Manchester City left back Neil “Dissa” Pointin once said, with great power comes great responsibility, and as a result I feel under tremendous pressure to entertain my vast readership. Which I won’t be able to, of course. So bollox to it – more of the same old same old coming up, probably. (And no, of course I haven’t read the preface to the second edition of De L’Amour. But an excellent trick for those wishing to appear more intelligent than they actually are is to read at least one clever book, in this case Machado De Assis’s Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, and especially the introduction or footnotes. These will undoubtedly have been written by a literary critic or if not An Intelligent And Well Read Person, who will probably have chucked in as many references to other clever books as he can possibly think of. All that remains is for the astute reader to refer to these clever books in a way that suggests he has read them many times and knows them intimately, and that frankly he is rather surprised that the person he is speaking to has not).

Speaking of Machado De Assis, all this self-deprecating irony aimed at the size of one’s readership is in itself very machadean (in a way that is right up there with the moment when possibly gin or at least coffee soaked presenter of Channel 5 (UK)’s very late night baseball programme, Tommy Boyd, informed the viewing tens that he wasn’t going to apologise for accidental on-air profanity as “there was no-one bloody watching anyway”). In fact all that I really need to do is write a bit more about fim de siecle or at least start of siecle Brazilian social mores, bung in a bit more post modern intertextuality (and jokes), and in a hundred years someone might well refer to this blog as a tour de force of surprising modernity.

But for now only day-to-day infamy and pleasant tedium remain, so today’s story is basically What I Did At The Weekend (In Which The Argument And I Meet A Famous Person). I’m bored, a little, of calling The Fanautico, um, The Fanautico, so from now on I’m going to call her The Argument. Not that we argue a lot, The Argument and I, but still. We argue sometimes, like most young (arf arf) folk, and anyway it makes me laugh to call her The Argument. What her opinion is on the subject is I have yet to inquire.

So anyway. We have quite the weekend, The Argument and I. On Friday we meet in hustling bustling rockin’ and rollin’ downtown Recife, and the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Rain feels to me now a bit like what the world was like before all this new fangled technology we have now (the internet, mobile phones, cars etc.) – something I can kind of remember but only in a very hazy way. We have a cheap and cheerful lunch in the garden of a nice little self-service restaurant just off Conde Da Boa Vista, and then start gustily slurping down the palavras - The Argument is not a professional drinker such as I, but she has her moments. We keep on necking palavras until the shadows stretch all the way down the block and the streets fill with people on their way home from work and then we go to Cais De Santa Rita, where we meet my good friend Suicidal of Jordão. Raul Seixas plays on the stereo, we suck on maybe the best caldinhos in Recife and continue on the palavras. At about nine The Argument goes off to meet her friends in Recife Antigo for more palavras and dancing fun. Not always being one for dancing fun I decide to call it a night, and I and SoJ head tipsily home to our respective casas.

Saturday sees the same motley threesome lolling on the beach at Calhetas. It is the first time SoJ has been to Calhetas or any of the beaches on the litoral sul. SoJ is 30 and lives around 20 minutes drive from such beaches. But he is SoJ, so. The white tipped surf crashes on the beach, the sun twinkles through the palm trees, the sky is an aching blue, we order mountains of food and palavras and wiggle our toes in the sand. What do you think, I ask SoJ. S’alright, he says. Only when I see something like this really I just think about what’s missing in my life. How it could have been different. This is how it usually goes with SoJ these days. Try whistling a happy tune, I say, you might feel better.

On Sunday afternoon I ease the aching sadness in my heart and take in Santa’s game in the semi-professional Copa Pernambuco, and in a way it’s nice to sit in the half empty stands and actually concentrate on the game, rather than get caught up the sound and fury of grander days. And Santa – woo frickin´hoo – win 5-0!!!

And! On Sunday night I propose to The Argument that we go out. We try up on the hill but the Alta Da Sé is chock full of teenage boys with their shirts off and teenage girls who might not have even had a shirt in the first place and cars with stereo systems the size of Ecuador and the nice bars are already battening down the hatches. So we wander around a bit and end up in a gringo-ish bar down near the Praça Do Carmo. Which is all well and good – a bit pricier than say, the Beco Da Fome, but finely chilled palavras and a gentler air. So we sit and we drink and we eat and we feel fine and then at about 11pm a smallish young man comes in with a rangier, slightly awry looking companion and two middle aged women. It’s Matheus Nachtergaele!, whispers The Argument. And it is – maybe Brazil’s bestest actor and star turn of my favourite film ever, Amarelo Manga, which along with Taxi Driver might be the most perfect recapturing of the wrecked soul of a city (Recife – where else?) that I’ve seen. For those in the market for the recapturing of the soul of a very non-wrecked city, of course, there’s also London with Notting Hill and Love Actually. Thereby proving the adage (and I think it was Dissa´s Salford Rottweiler successor I´ve lost that Terry Phelan, Bring back that Terry Phelan that said it) that everyone and everything gets the art they deserve.

Anyway. There’s lots of kissy kissy going on with Matheus N and his companion, and the companion is extremely impassioned about something or other and gesticulates wildly with his cigarette. There are hugs and punches on the arm and slaps on the back and almost a bit of a fight and it all looks a bit like the kind of you’remybestmateyouare drunken epiphanies with wearysome friends that I have come to know very well myself. I hear the word fucking genius mentioned a few times, and also the name Claudio. Claudio! So the companion (who is dressed a bit like one of the Beastie Boys, with golf trousers and red Converse trainers – not a common look in Recife) can only be Claudio Assis, director of Amarelo Manga!

The Argument and I are by now terribly excited. I’m terribly excited, I say to The Argument. So am I, says The Argument. Still we are elegant young (ho, ho) people, so we don’t look directly at Matheus and Claudio, instead fixing our attention on the intrictate flower patterning of our table cloth and talking about other things - what are the women’s bogs like? Alright. What about the men’s? They’re alright too. Toilet wouldn’t flush though. Oh. And all the time tremendous high jinks at the next table, where food arrives by the truckload and whiskey flows like water. At one point I think Claudio Assis is a little sick on his shoes. Though we’ve all been a little sick on our shoes at one time or another, I suppose.

Anyway, eventually The Argument and I can stretch it out no longer. We pay our bill and wander past the grown-ups table. And I can’t contain myself! Sorry, I say, knees trembling a bit, I don’t mean to bother you. Claudio Assis belches and lurches to his feet. Come on Claudio, says one of the middle-aged women, and escorts him staggeringly away, to where – a taxi, a gutter, her generously bosomed charms – only they know. Matheus N smiles nervously. No problem, he says, looking around for the waiter. Or security. Um, I, um, I really admire your work, I say. And I want to leave it at that. I really do. But I can’t. I love you! Fucking Amarelo fucking Manga! Jesus! I think I punch the air. Matheus N smiles and grips his cutlery tightly. You just missed the director, he says. I know, I say, and I want to tell him about the events of entry dated 2nd May 2008, when I gave a copy of Your Life Is An Impossibility to a grizzled old farmer who promised he would deliver it to Claudio, who was supposedly working in an artist’s commune on grizzled old farmer’s, um, farm. But I don’t (thank Christ). The Argument, at least, retains some sense of propriety. What are you doing in Recife? she asks him. Making another film with Claudio. About a poet. John The Rat. (I think – things were getting a bit hazy by this time). The Argument loses her sense of propriety completely. He’s a writer! she squeals, pointing at me. I smile. Like a gimp. Matheus N smiles back. No-one seems to have much to say. We apologise again, just for politeness, and say good luck and good bye. At the door we turn and wave. Matheus N waves too. He didn’t hate us! I say to The Argument. I am exultant! Not to be hated by a person I admire! I look down at The Argument. She is walking-sleeping, her head nestled in the crook of my arm.

Friday, 23 October 2009

I’d pictured it a little differently – maybe a cheesily grinning President Lula shaking my hand and handing me a gold-plated Brazilian identity card, while all my Brazilian heroes (to wit, Carlinhos Paraiba, former trojan Santa meio-campista now wasting his time with Coritiba in Serie A as opposed to gloriously representing Santa against various collections of plumbers, bus drivers and garis in the Copa Pernambuco, Nelson Rodrigues, Milton Nascimento (actually he’s out because he’s cruzeirense), Tom Zé, Faustão, Xuxa, a few others who I can’t quite remember now) and a massed crowd of o povo Brasileiro cheered wildly. Lula would be doing this in recognition of my services to the Brazilian people – or in other words writing this blog, telling any moaning upper middle class Brazilian I come across to shut his/her cakehole and that there’s plenty of other places in the world (even in (gasp!) Europe) that are just as banjaxed as Brazil, being tricolor, because everyone knows Lula is really O Mais Querido despite pretending to be corinthiano, and being co-founder of the world’s least successful voluntary project, more of which (maybe) later.

In the end though, its all quite perfunctory and not half as interesting as I had planned (which should perhaps be the title for this blog). I go to the policia federal at the airport, tell them my story, sit nervously for a few minutes until someone says ah bollox to it we may as well let him in after all its only the pissing amnesty who bleedin’ cares (or words to that affect) and four years of (all entirely legal) visa shenanigans of various stripes have come to an end, and, thanks to nice Mr Lula and nice Mr Ken Ho (I think), I am the proud owner of a two-year provisional visa which should then, provided I don’t decide to take up a career as an international drug trafficker or abuser of infants, become permanent.

Woo-frickin-hoo. The only thing is that having always been something of a stranger to permanence of any kind (whether in love, living arrangements, or my various not very glorious careers), I get a funny, twitchy kind of feeling in my pants when I think about being here forever. Though of course I’d always planned to be here, um, forever – it’s just that now it might really be forever, well, forever seems a mighty long time. And – and this one’s harder to understand, or maybe it’s not – Brazil looks a bit different now too, and the what the hell am I doing here moments are coming thick and fast.

What the hell am I doing here moment number 1: The weekend after National Day of the Visa (there’s a national day for everything else in Brazil, including dentists, bus drivers and commercial workers, so why not?) The Fanautico drags me off to Itapoama for a weekend of sun, sea and shandies at a friend´s beach house. Though really it’s a weekend of cachaça, cachaça and cachaça from sun up to sun down to sun up again. On Sunday night we ease on down the road to a clutch of grim little bars huddled under the trees – up ahead is Brennand (surely mentioned before – recifense phallic sculptor and owner of half the city) family land – as usual the crickets chirrup and the moon flits through the trees and it feels – apart from the 4x4s belting down the highway, that we might be in the middle of witchy primeval forest. Only – the Brazilians amongst us (i.e. everybody except me) start gyrating and twirling the minute we get there, despite the music being two old cheesers with cowboy hats and epic moustaches on keyboards and vocals, and no-one seems to want to talk about anything, only shout and slap each others’ neatly packaged (the girls, that is) arses and drink and call for more drink and more drink and more drink. I stand glumly for a bit, feeling thoroughly out of things, yearning for a quiet pint in a morbidly silent boozer in Crystal Palace, Dundrum Bay or Whalley Range. And I think – WTHAIDH? Until I find a novel solution to the problem – drink more, and faster.

What the hell am I doing here moment number 2 (in which it is revealed that slavery never really went away): I may be a honky but I´m hung like a donkey, sings Shaun William Ryder as The Ferrari crashes over rocks and leaps across craters on Avenida Getulio Vargas. Then I get tired of Shaun William Ryder’s shouty shouty snarly snarly and turn on JC/CBN. JC/CBN is a bit like Radio 4, except it isn’t really, because it has commercials with songs that go Pitu Cola ooh-ooh, Pitu Cola aah-aah, which does nothing for one’s moments of intellectual reflection. A man comes on and talks earnestly about do’s and don’ts in a job interview. He sounds like he has a degree in Science of Workplace Dynamics or something equally handy (to quote, indirectly, Paul Calf). Whatever you do, he says, don’t ask any questions in your interview. The interview is for the employer to find out about you, not for you to find out about the employer. And you certainly don’t ask about holidays, or benefits. You can find out about those things from your colleagues when you start work. For some reason my knee jerks violently and hits the steering wheel and The Ferrari narrowly misses an oncoming 910 Rio Doce – Piedade bus. Meanwhile the presenter of the radio show is mmm-mmming his agreement with our Doctorate in Ergonomic Office Furniture and thanking him earnestly for his advice, and yes, I know most minimum salary workers in Brazil don’t have a hell of a lot of employment options and aren’t likely to find themselves headhunted by Ernest Young or Price Waterhouse Cooper, but still……

What the hell am I doing here moment number 3: Actually there isn’t really a number 3, just a general feeling of weariness. Because it sometimes gets tiring, living in Brazil, in another country, where for the Foreign Johnny many things that the locals see as normal and expected are new and not expected and as annoying as hell. Debating strategies are one such example – a debate between two Brazilians generally involves both individuals talking quite loudly and repeating themselves as much as possible and if at all possible speaking in a continuous stream to prevent the other person from speaking at all, with occasional breaks used for turning away and invoking support from onlookers by mocking one’s opponent, perhaps by calling him a corno, or cuckold. This is frustrating for me because I like to argue and in Norn’ Iron, at least, it is customary to at least allow one’s opponent to express his point of view before calling him a silly feckin’ eejit and breaking a bottle over his head.

More examples - that I have to pick up my bog-trotting The Clampetts meet The Adams Family neighbours’ rubbish and carry it up to the dumping spot at the top of the road. That when I went to a nice beach ™ on Sunday we sat in a bar which played ear-crushing forro eletrico all day, which rather spoiled the sound of the wind rustling in the palm trees. That it’s bloody hot all the time (actually I like this). That I live very close to the sea and see it every day (actually I like this too).

(And all these (hottness and sea excepted, naturally) are also proof of one of the lowest parts of the gringo experience - that when living in another country it´s hard to separate the individual from the mass. If a roaring white van with BNP stickers on the windscreen runs over my foot in London or Belfast or Manchester, for example, I think, you f***ing c***. If the same thing happens in Recife (replacing BNP stickers with Sport stickers perhaps), I think you f***ing Brazilian c***. Which is wrong, obviously, but I think pretty unavoidable).

Moan moan moan.

I suppose what it is really is that one just needs to go home every once in a while, to matar saudades and to count one’s blessings and to remember that with an old small car, a small young dog, an old small house, and a small young girlfriend (though not that small or young, your honour) I have pretty much all that I need or want here in Recife. I’ll tell you the results of investigative research into this particular theory sometime in 2010, after I get back from a month in England and Norn’ Iron (and it’s amazing what you can buy with a year’s worth of teacher’s salary in Brazil these days – half a new car, half a small house (though probably only in Ibura or Santa Amaro), a return ticket from Recife to London). And I must admit I’m looking forward to it, a bit – to walk across Crystal Palace Park in the freezing bloody cold, to spend a few hours in the wonderful Bookseller Crow On The Hill (there’s a link to the website below), to spend r$16 on the 30 minute journey into central London and then r$20 on a pint of warm flat beer and r$24 on a pack of cigarettes which you can’t frickin’ smoke anyway then talking about property prices and amazing new bands for three hours before being told (rather rudely) by the barman that at 11pm it’s time to go home. And, of course, on any tube or train journey, observing the famous London stare – gazing just above the person opposite’s shoulder, just to the right or left of the ear – so that said starer doesn’t have to expend the effort to look away but at the same time sure as hell isn’t going to acknowledge fellow passenger in any way.

These visits home – one every two years, roughly, have divided my time here in Brazil quite nicely. The first, after six months, had me gushing on about how wonderful Brazil was, a land of freedom and opportunity and happiness where everybody smiled all the time (and all the birds were well fit ‘innit, of course). This was in the days, of course, of The Ex-Girlfriend and all those fun and games, and when I knew bog all about anything in Brazil (what’s changed, some might say). The second, two years after landfall, saw me older and a bit (but not much) wiser about Brazil and its disappointments but still cheesily passing out Chico Buarque and Joao Gilberto CDs to my not very interested friends. Now things are what they are – no longer a frothy tourist or even novice wannabe Brazilian (a fruitless task anyway), more a slightly jaundiced gringo from a rather small and confusing country (just try explaining Norn Iron’s relationship with the UK and the Black South to a Brazilian) who still believes in the essential rightness of Brazil (which is that people like each other, generally, and are not repelled by the company of others) vis-à-vis the essential wrongness of countries which have lost this quite, duh, fundamental human quality.

It’s a bit like your bird innit – after six months the first haze of sex and happiness glows strongly and colours everything. After two years we are more than aware of the cracks that are rivening their way through our little paradise. After four years perhaps we reach a peaceable kind of contentment where there are moments (1, 2 and all of 3 above, for example) where we would happily strangle our life partner (or country) of choice, but still, on the whole, are happy and remember enough of the reasons of why we loved said partner or country in the first place to keep us trucking on and trucking on and trucking on. Basically – you’re happy if you’re happy, and you’re sad if you’re sad, and you could be happy in downtown Kabul when it all starts kicking off if the chick in the dayglo burkha you like gives you a cheeky wink and you could be sad in a five bedroom penthouse apartment on Avenida Boa Viagem if you’re not quite as rich as you want to be.

And here endeth the sermon, as always prefixed with the words but what would I know?

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

They’ve closed down the Beco Da Fome, and torn off its roof, which is a shame, because it was one of the grottiest of downtown Recife’s many grotty drinking holes, and therefore one of the finest places on God’s (and yes, I have noticed that I mention God rather a lot for a heretic) green earth to slake a thirst. It is/was nothing very special – six or seven bars crammed together in a kind of shopping arcade, but the beer was cheap and the music and the women loud and terrible, and there was a cheerful kind of camaraderie to the whole place.

It has some kind of relevance for me too. I last drank there on a Friday night a couple of weeks ago (which in a dubious claim to fame would make me one of the last thousand or so people to drink in the Beco Da Fome, at least as it was). As the latest tilt at windmills in my quixotic crusade to make it into proper grown-up print with shiny covers, I thought I’d write an article about the trials and tribulations of football clubs in the generally impoverished nordeste of Brazil (vis a vis their wealthier cousins down in Sao Paulo and Rio and Porto Alegre) with particular mention going to, you guessed it, Santa Cruz Futebol Clube, and with a profile of the Inferno Coral thrown in as a cheeky little crackers and cheese platter at the end (torcida organizadas are big business in the nordeste). Inspiration for this came from a variety of sources, the most obvious being my own hapless interest in the subject, and also last January’s or February’s scandal-mongering article on the subject in the Diario Do Pernambuco - “They’ll kill your pets! They’ll rape your daughters! They’ll cut the heads off your rose bushes? They’ll cut the heads off your daughters and kill your rose bushes and rape your pets! They’re the Inferno Coral!” being roughly the gist of it.

So I thought to call up some of the nice chaps in the Inferno shop and invite them out for a few jars and a bit of a chinwag. I like the Inferno shop – there are always a few malevolent glances bouncing around when you walk in, and it’s a bit dark and moody, but by the time you get to the counter and are vaguely recognised it’s smiles all round and a friendlier and more professional service than you get in many of Recife’s major banks. Oddly it’s one of the places in town where I feel least like a gringo.

I’ve never been interviewed before, says Colin, Inferno commandant, gazing off somewhere over my shoulder, moony as a schoolgirl, when I ask him. (Colin, of course, isn´t really called Colin). I hasten to explain that it’s not quite Time or even Veja, and I’ll be lucky if anyone wants to buy it when I’ve finished. Colin continues to stare into the middle distance, dreaming perhaps of explaining Inferno’s moral stance on violence on Domingao with Faustão or Jo Soares.

This, as it happens, is all a few months ago. I see Colin at Santa games and tell him I’ve nearly finished the article and I’ll call him soon to do the Inferno bit. He introduces me to his chums and tells everyone I’m a tricolor doente from Holland. Or sometimes it´s Germany. Or Albania. I haven’t really the energy to correct him. Eventually, and ironically enough, what with Santa’s adventures in Serie D now distant taillights fading into the black (10 points for anyone who knows the band) , we arrange to meet.

Now it’s a long time since we’ve heard from The Ex-Girlfriend, provider of much early glamour and pizzazz in these otherwise lacklustre scribblings. But The Fanautico has certain issues with The Ex-Girlfriend, perhaps understandably – there is a long and complicated past to take into account - though the idea of romantic dillydallying with TEG now gives off about as much heat for me as a plate of yesterday’s rice and beans. Anyway, this makes co-TEG-fraternising a bit tricky. So I take the opportunity of being downtown to stop by TEG’s place of work, a jogo do bicho stall near the Beco. We head up to the Praça Maciel Pinheiro and hurl down a few palavras. Everything is nice – TEG is nice, the palavras are nice, the evening is nice, the fruit sellers and the street kids with their bottles of glue jammed in their little mouths are nice. We wait for Colin. He wanders past, half an hour late. I’m just going home quickly, he says, I’ll be back in a bit. I wonder is he going to change into his Inferno branded tux.

We wait. TEG stops drinking palavras. I don’t. We wait some more. TEG makes her excuses (a jealous-ish boyfriend waiting at home, though how jealous can one be if one in fine Pernambucan fashion romanced one’s current love for four months before revealing one’s rather spoken-for-with-someone-else marital status) and leaves. The palavras keep coming. Eventually, an hour and a half late (another fine Pernambucan tradition), Colin arrives. Finish your beer, he says. We’re not staying here. I do as requested. Colin speeds off. I hurry after him. Where are we going? I ask.

Moody silence. I feel a bit twitchy.

I needn’t have worried, of course. We go to the Beco Da Fome, and we drink. There are six or so Inferno huddled around the table, and also Jeremy, a senior member of Forca Jovem Vasco, up from Rio to spend his hols on the beach at Boa Viagem and hang out with the Inferno. We talk of the good things about torcida organizadas – the community projects (Atletico Mineiro’s Galoucora have created around two hundred such schemes, ranging from mai-tai and capoeira classes to crèches and blood donation drives), the sense of belonging that the organisations give to kids who might otherwise have very little reason not to involve themselves in drugs and violence (not mentioning of course that some of them involve themselves in drugs and violence via, um, the organizadas), the fantastic support that the organizadas give to their football clubs, the complicated system of allies and foes that spreads throughout Brazil (Jeremy’s reason for being in Recife – Inferno are allied to, amongst others, Galoucora (you can spot a big Inferno flag at any of Atletico’s home games in Belo Horizonte), Bahia, Vasco, and Fortaleza).

And we talk about the bad, which is, obviously the criminality and the violence. And this is where it all gets tricky, because what does one say or think about things? Yes, violence is A Very Bad Thing, and can never (or at least hardly ever) be condoned. And torcida organizadas are responsible for a lot of violence. But. The majority of organizada violence is carried out amongst willing participants – Inferno will have a scrap with Jovem Sport, and everyone involved will be there because they want to be. There will be few, if any, innocent bystanders hurt.

And thinking about this, I remember a Sunday afternoon in my early days in Recife. I and The Ex-Girlfriend From Santa Maria Da Boa Vista Near Petrolina (or at least I think Santa Maria Da Boa Vista was the name of the place) had been to watch Santa and Nautico at Aflitos. It was the dog days at the end of the Campeonato Pernambucano that year and both Santa and Nautico were terrible and no-one much cared about the result. Strolling back to my apartment in Boa Vista we noticed a gang, maybe 300 strong, of Inferno Coral coming up behind us. Panic ensued. People huddled nervously together for safety at the bus stops. Needles scratched across jukebox records. The wind picked up and tossed the trees around and horses started eating other horses. TEGFSMDBVNP quivered gently beside me. We crossed the road and stopped at a taxi rank. You’d better stay here, chum, said the taxi driver, it’s not safe. TEGFSMDBVNP heartily agreed. Hmmmmm, I thought. I hadn’t met the Inferno before, but had some first (or at least second) hand knowledge of how football hooliganism (Salford/Moss Side branches) worked in the UK. I suspected the Inferno weren’t really out to kick seven bells out of innocent passers-by (particularly those wearing Santa Cruz shirts). So. Bollox, I said, and went to haul TEGFSMDBVNP off down Rua Do Principe, where I had fun and games of a different stripe in mind. Are you crazy, said the taxi driver, they’ll rape your girlfriend and they’ll slice you up and kill you! Which can only lead one to one thought, can it not, which is – what?!@?$??? Has there ever, ever, ever been a case of a group of 300 torcida organizadas setting randomly upon two people not connected with another team or another organizada and beating them until they were deadish? Do torcida organizadas regularly carry out 300 strong gang rapes? Of course not/of course they don’t. So we headed off, and the group passed us as we went, singing a fairly unpleasant song about Jovem Sport´s curious interest in anal penetration, and at the same time they passed a middle aged woman talking on her mobile and paid her no attention at all. A large number of the Inferno turned and stared at TEGFSMDBVNP’s strapping bosom, I must confess, but that was the extent of the malice and also it was a crime which I’d been guilty of myself a few times and so could not stand in judgement.

I know this is all defending the indefensible, and I don’t mean to, but things are often made out to be worse than they are and sitting at the table in the Beco Do Fome it was hard for me to feel holier than thou. Or even thee. All at the table had been involved in trying to rid Inferno of the worst of its criminal elements (those who like to mug other Santa fans after the games, for example) and none seemed to have much appetite for violence. No-one admitted to having broken the windows or the chairs on a city bus, though they probably had in their misspent youths. The worst of their crimes was fighting with Jovem Sport, which none of them did very often, and which mostly seem to be bravado-ish bluster anyway. And furthermore a distinction needs to be made between those who are genuinely part of the core group of Inferno, and go to every game home and away, and attend meetings and bang drums and carry flags and spend most of their lives in the Inferno shop or the sede out at Arruda, and those (Hello, Inferno Ibura!) who wear the shirt as a badge of honour and use the gang mentality of football as an excuse to go on crime spree rampages before and after games (had it been a ragtag mob such as this we wouldn’t have wandered merrily off down Rua Do Principe that day). In the end, while I can’t pretend it’s all harmless fun (it’s not, because people get scared and sometimes hurt and even killed and babies cry), while part of me wanted to stand up and say my-goodness-how-terrible-I’m-absolutely-outraged, equally part of me felt that young men having the occasional rubadubdub with other young men who are equally booze and testosterone fuelled and equally mad-fer-it, and in the form I have described above, and excluding any kind of real intimidation and terror against members of the public, might not, in the end, be the worst thing on earth. Oh dear. This probably makes me a very bad person, or at the very least a pasty fleshed gringo doing his feeble best to hang out with the tough kids at school. In which case – sorry, sorry, sorry.

Anyway. The night grew late and they started putting the chairs on the tables in the Beco. The air was thick with smoke and the floor sticky with spilt palavras. Half of the crew headed off to Arruda, to the Inferno HQ, where there was a party going on. I was invited, and while I considered going (purely for investigative journalist purposes, of course), I am (a) old (b) as previously mentioned, somewhat pasty and (c) also as previously mentioned, and more than once - a gringo, and so thought a nice book and a cup of cocoa in bed the best option. Still time for a few more palavras with Colin, though, and the talk ranges far and wide, as the talk usually does in such circumstances. We even agree, if I remember correctly, that it is time the Inferno (with a potential membership of up to maybe 15,000, if they managed to get everyone registered) got themselves organised politically, and marched on Boa Viagem (in protest of what we don’t decide).

And then it’s time to go home.