Sunday, 3 May 2009


All is right with the world – or at least if not all is right, then almost all is right. A late summer Friday afternoon, Guinness The Dog pootling around the garden, the sun etching shadows between the trees and the little white painted houses. The trees themselves have turned a smoky kind of green, as someone has lit a bonfire nearby, and the ocean laps idly back and forth a couple of hundred yards away and below. There are even a few sailboats drifting across the milky horizon. I’m smoking cigarettes because after years in the amateur game I’m thinking of taking the sport up professionally. And although if I’m the only one to think so (the national media and my collegas in Boa Viagem certainly do not) Brazil seems to me to be getting better, though agonisingly slowly of course, and in good one step forward three hundred and forty six steps backwards fashion – cocking it’s snook at global economic crises through a dizzying variety of consumer credit and loan schemes and massive government investment programmes (at the same time indebting its citizens to enormous, almost British/North American levels, but who cares about that?). And anyway after the tragi-comedies of Northern Ireland in the 1980s and early 90s Brazil never seemed to me to be as otherwordly bad as some people seem to think – just another very fucked up country in a long list of very fucked up countries.

Santa Cruz are putting to bed another trophy-less Campeonato Pernambucano, but it has been a two months to be remembered fondly – particularly no end of hi-jinks with the Inferno Coral and the otherwise atrocious full back Adilson`s last minute equaliser against Sport at a packed and rambunctious Arruda, sparking the tricolor masses into delirium, volleys of fireworks mingling with the chant of 40,000 people singing o dono daqui sou eu for a very long time without stopping. (The approximate translation of this is: yes, you might be in Serie A and on your way to winning your fourth consecutive Pernambuco championship AND even playing in the Libertadores, and we might be in Serie D and probably the world’s most shambolic football club, but the owner of this house, my friend, has always been and always will be Santa Cruz, and I’ll thank you to show some respect when you come to visit). Then everyone stopped singing that and started chanting ooooh vai morrer, ooooh vai morrer (translation: ooooh you’re gonna die, ooooh you’re gonna die) at the few thousand Sport fans huddled nervously in the far corner of the stadium. Less poetic, admittedly, but a nice throwback to Belfast Big Two derbies and chants of you’re going home in a ****ing ambulance...

And yes, I am thinking about starting another website entitled Your Football Team Is An Impossibility in order to remove such tedious sporting romanticising from this one. If so, it’s fitting to go out on a last tribute to our anti-hero Adilson, perhaps the only professional footballer to have his wife write to his club requesting he be kicked off the team. I love my husband very much, said the letter from Senora Adilson, recently printed in the Diario De Pernambuco, and he is a wonderful father to our children. In our lovemaking he is tender and passionate and gives me much pleasure. But for the love of God get him off the team. He’s a bloody awful footballer – even a blind man can see it – and he’s royally fucking up Santa’s chances in the Pernambucano.*

There is even another Potential New Light Of My Life (Number 464), one that shows no signs of being a surreptitious reader of private correspondence or an occasional eater of small birds (ok, there hasn’t actually been a secret eater of small birds yet, but the way that things have been going it was surely only a matter of time), one that likes the odd sherbert or two, football, and goes like the clappers (NB – that last bit, whether true or not, is an appeasing joke to the Maxim oriented readers of this site, and should not be considered in anyway an appraisal of PNLOML 464’s sexual appetites or otherwise).

The only thing is that, as the cultural output of the south of France in the 20th century confirms, such contentedness breeds sloth and a thorough lack of inspiration. Whither the angst, Mr X? Even The Ex-Girlfriend is safely ensconced in dilapidated suburban Recife, playing house with The Ex-Girlfriend’s New Boyfriend, rather selfishly supplying a disappointing lack of pei pei pei drama and excitement to these pages.

Maybe the trick is to look closer to home for essays on life and all its rich foolishness. Maybe – gulp – the trick is to stop thinking of oneself all the time, and to consider for a while the lives of others. And in the unheard of neighbourhood of Amaro Branco, huddled on the slopes of old Olinda at the foot of the lighthouse, there’s probably enough material to knock out a couple of dozen A La Recherce Du Temps Perdu.

Wander up the hill from the house, for example, and then hang a left as though heading back down again, and in front of the Igreja San Franciso you’ll find a small leafy square with a hefty stone cross plunked in the middle. There are a few crumbling houses perched on the muddy banks around the square, and in the square itself, or maybe in a little wooden hut or beneath a tree behind one of the houses, lives a gentleman known only as The String Man. The String Man seems to be impossibly aged (though he may not be), and his skin is all brown and as dry and wrinkly as old leaves. His hair and beard are ash grey and his eyes twinkle like broken glass and he is as small and hunched as a twelve year old boy (though I appreciate that twelve year old boys aren’t usually hunched). When I walk past him on a morning ramble with Guinness The Dog he comes bounding over and kneels down and puts a small piece of string in front of Guinness The Dog. Guinness The Dog looks at me, as though to ask "What’s all this horseshit, papai?”, for Guinness The Dog is not an easy tolerator of fools. The String Man laughs and pushes the string closer to Guinness The Dog, who has spotted a cat somewhere off to the left and is much more interested in that (though Guinness The Dog is in fact scared of cats and when faced with one simply darts manically from left to right in front of him/her, tail wagging furiously). I don’t think she really understands, I tell The String Man (wanting to tell him that I don’t really understand either). The String Man laughs and pockets the string and in the same movement fishes a half smoked cigarette out of another pocket and offers it to me. I don’t smoke, I lie, and he nods and then we shake hands and I wander off to wherever I am going with Guinness The Dog and he wanders off to wherever it is he wanders off to.

Another day The String Man comes leaping down from the bank with an important mission in mind. He carries a small white piece of wood. Stand on that, he motions (The String Man is a man of few words). I stand on it. He pokes at my foot with a small stick. Measurements of the most bizarre variety are imaginarily taken. Ha!, The String Man shouts after a few minutes, apparently pleased with his findings. He solemnly shakes my hand and wanders off again, thinking hard about impossible things.

The last time I see The String Man is on a rainy day when I am in the bakery buying bread and dog biscuits (dog food and dog biscuits now account for exactly 49.64% of my monthly income). The String Man is at the counter smiling beatifically at the bakery woman (who we might call Iris). Iris is laughing hard, her eyes shining behind her thick glasses. The String Man doesn’t laugh – just smiles. When he sees me he smiles and picks a toffee out of the box on the counter and gives it to me. I eat the toffee. The String Man buys his cigarettes and leaves. I overtake him on the way up the hill – his legs are as thin as twigs and his feet are bare and black and sore looking and progress is slow. When I see him I decide to go back to the bakery and buy him a toffee (The String Man will accept neither bread nor money – and I’ve tried more than a few times). I catch up with him again and give him the toffee. He smiles and puts it in his pocket, and shakes my hand, and when we reach the top of the hill he goes left down to the square and the big stone cross and I go on up the hill, to the Alta Da Se from where you can see all of Recife – all of 3,000,000 or so lives being thickly lived - spreading out in the drizzly haze.

*All a total lie, of course, but a good one, and it was April last month, so it’s still kind of Liar’s Day, isn’t it?

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