Wednesday, 18 March 2009


Pint of the black stuff and top of the morning to yer and the snakes are gone begorrah the snakes are gone and the furthest one would ever think of getting from St. Paddy’s Day is Recife, and while there is a merciful drought of Irish bars in a city of four-ish million people (a tip perhaps for recession breakers everywhere), one can never get far enough, and sure as more rain follows rain there are a couple of overly enthusiastic English As A Foreign Language Teachers (one of them the aforementioned Girl With The Biggest Smile In The World) ready to pick up the slack by wearing big green hats and pointy foam Guinness fingers (beer not dog). But bollox to all that because surely the best way to spend such a foolish occasion (forgive the bitterness but for any right thinking Protestant school kid in 1980s Belfast the only thing St. Patrick’s Day meant was the Catholic school kids getting a whole day off while we got diddly) is to spend a few hours at a private English school wine tasting event before getting royally hammered with an American and an Argentinian.

And none of that is the half of it (as it never is) because the half of it involves getting a night bus all the ways to Cais De Santa Rita (probably a much better saint than pious oul' Patrick if I had even the faintest idea of what she did) at two in the morning on a Tuesday and then waiting for the bus to Olinda. It is a well known fact that 67.35% of Brazilians on late night buses engage in animated conversation and this was no different and as we all rolled off the bus it was like Party Time in Party City! if this means anything at all (and it doesn’t to me). But there was something about it all – the buses nuzzling up to each other like sheep in a pen as they waited for their 2am departure time – the drivers standing around exchanging idle banter with chubby prostitutes – the pipoca sellers swarming about smoking cigarettes and trying to, well, sell pipoca – that got me all stirred up and had me gripping hard on the railing as the bus rolled out of the station. And best of all – it went a different way! Not chewing up past the city council offices and over the bridges to Cruz Cabuga and Santo Amaro but dawdling about in the city for a while and then up Cruz Cabuga and on to Olinda.

And then – about half way to home – the rain decided to come hissing down and as Travis Bickle is becoming a bit of a theme then why! it really does wash clean the streets – and as I walked along the sea front under the moon and then up the hill and there was not a car in sight then it really was all a bit cleaner and newer and better than it ever has been before.

And what a brief thrill all of that was, and one that got me thinking that the worst thing that anyone from Kazakhstan can do is to think he knows it all about Uzbekistan despite not knowing quite the half of it, and even worse is the man from Kazakhstan who doesn’t even know any of it at all and treats the whole place like the swings in the local park (a good place to drink and smoke and meet girls/boys) and worse even than that is the man from Kazakhstan who knows more than half of it again but still doesn’t know anything about the part he doesn’t know about and doesn't want to. There may be many who disagree about such a diagnosis but for me I have chosen the route of knowing as much as I can about Uzbekistan and as many people who live there as I can whilst still acknowledging that I know absolutely nothing about anything. If you know what I mean.

Anyway before all of that is Friday night, and Friday night is Friday night, and although I do not work on Fridays the pull of Friday night, carried from the past of the old drizzly Londonish working week, still has its magic. So on Friday night when the wife of The Friend From The Small Caribbean Island calls, I go out. Only before that, all tied up in knots from teaching and translating and buses and supermarkets and bank balances and dog food and things that cannot be mentioned here, I have a moment. It is a moment that all of us who have abandoned everything we once knew and had must have every now and again – the moment when you remember why. I stood in the garden and drank a beer and looked up at the sky and remembered – I am in South America, the sea that I see from here is the south eastern part of the Atlantic Ocean, the balmy night sky above is the velvet night of the Southern Cross. And as I thought this the heavy weight of responsibility and the boredom of ordinary life left me and I felt blessed in a small way.

I tried to take the feeling with me – and it worked. Our group was – The Friend From A Small Caribbean Island, his wife, her eight year old godson, and THFASCI’s friend from Mexico. I thought about it – this is my life now - Mexicans and Argentinians and Brazilians and Porto Ricans. I felt happy and exotic.

We went to a restaurant and ate macaxeira and carne do sol. I became angry because the restaurant had run out of bottled beers and only sold cans. We went to another bar, but the bar charged a R$5 cover charge because there was a very bad samba band playing. We argued about football – and I remembered why I believe that people who profess to support teams enjoying periods of success but who do not match that claim by actually going to watch their team are sometimes like very rich men with very small penises in that it is an odd kind of pleasure that comes from mocking the suffering of others on a subject you personally care very little about and can take no credit for – and then about politics.

The argument about politics might be of some interest to anyone who is still reading and who has not died of boredom in that it involved someone from a now relatively wealthy country (albeit one that used to be the very watchword in a European context for misery, poverty and ultra violence and that may now be doing its level best to get back to the good old days) advocating undying support for a socialist government and its welfare state and two people from what are often and erroneously described as “third world” (and I’ve never quite worked out where the second world might be) countries rejecting such policies as cynical vote grabbing. I have no explanation for this, other than that I am an optimist and an idealist now and even what a friend from the old part of my life who we might call Ignatius J. Reilly has mockingly described as Che Jimbo - even though despite once being a little bit middle class I have never become a doctor or ridden a motorbike around Recife or started a revolution, though I have sometimes sported a two or even three day growth of beard,and having once filled my head with such trivia as wondering whether Blink 182 are better than Linkin Park or not, I now concern myself with much deeper thoughts such as will Santa Cruz play in Serie C or Serie D next year and just why is cheese so nice. Really though, I am merely someone who was bored of one life and has beome reasonably happy leading another.

And then the best part of all – the long walk home along the hot blustery seafront and the late, private beer in the garden – when this limited moment of inspiration strikes. And then the battle rages between memory and reality – how long can I remember any of this, given almost twenty years of impressively-ish hard drinking? Must I run and scribble it down somewhere before it fades? Can I trust memory to last even until the morning? Then I feel it slipping away already – Guinness The Dog eats a bush, I tell Guinness The Dog to stop eating the bush, I smoke a cigarette, I look at the moon drifting behind the clouds, I read one page of an Andre Dubus story – and it is gone, all of it. Only I still trust in something and so I sit, and I wait, and I hope that it will come back, though it is not very good or interesting at all, and then I wait some more, and I wait some more, and like a match that has almost gone out it comes back, and here it is, now.

And finally in tribute to all things green and papist, a tribute to the Catholic church in Brazil, who a couple of weeks ago made the entirely sensible decision of attempting to ban the legal abortion of the unborn twin foetuses (foeti?) of a nine year old girl who had been made pregnant through being repeatedly raped by her stepfather. The good old boys from Rome via Sao Paulo weren’t successful, unfortunately, but, undaunted, have continued their heroic struggle by threatening legal action against the damnably evil state of Pernambuco (for murder, apparently) and excommunicating the doctors who performed the operation and the mother of the girl who consented to it, all of whom in my book thoroughly deserve such punishment and moreover should burn in the hellfires of eternal damnation for a very long time or even eternity - along of course with those other monstrous crimes against nature, homosexuals.

And puppies, for every puppy was born to sin.

But I'm feeling charitable, so God bless ‘em all, and God bless buses, because buses make me happy when nothing else will.

And now an entirely unnecessary disclaimer in that disclaimer implies that there might be readers somewhere out there: whilst a few of the sharper toothed images contained in this bit of blarney may appear to be connected to some of the people mentioned herein, this is entirely not the case at all and any such spiteful thoughts are, in fact, and in tribute to the late Harold Pinter, aimed at vague malevolent prescences lurking somewhere offstage.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey James, that story about the mad bishops made the front page of the Irish Times as the second lead story last month...
Dazinho

James Young said...

Really? Truth be told I was a bit disappointed, I thought Catholic Church Ireland branch had some kind of exclusivity on religious lunacy...