Sunday, 31 May 2009
A bright, blustery Saturday in The Murder Capital of Brazil (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/death-to-undesirables-brazils-murder-capital-1685214.html)*, and good things are afoot. Heavy winter, which is still an average six or seven degrees hotter than the UK basks in 23° temperatures headline I saw somewhere yesterday, but which also means Atlantic storms and weeks of hissing, cloud bursting rain – a pisser for all who like eating grilled cheese on the beach, slurupping down a few cold sherberts in a dark nook of a street corner bar, dreaming of better days at O Mundão Arruda, or generally doing anything at all in Recife, which is a city which lives and breathes out of doors, on its beaches and in its streets and roofless bars and football grounds.
But no rain today, only glimpsy blue skies and cotton puff clouds, and so everyone, it seems, is in a good mood. On the way into town, the bus driver blaps his horn to warn the driver of a careering juggernaut that he is careering faster still - blap blap – blap blap blap – blap blap blap. And has he passes the driver of the juggernaut supplies the punch line – blap blap! And I'm in a good mood too , because it’s Saturday, and I’ve already been up and around the Alto Da Sé with Guinness The Dog and looked down on the city and the white tipped sea and handed out a few cigarettes to The String Man, and last night after teaching the kids in Jordão (exactly the type of “sprawling slum” mentioned in The Independent article, of which more later), I went out and stood in the street and watched a quadrilia junina, or traditional São João dance group, only this being Jordao it was the hip-hop variety of quadrilia, with boys in Inferno and Jovem Sport t-shirts and girls in tiny shorts and tops, all dark skin glistening under the street lights, all spinning and whirling and jumping in a way that would make Beyonce’s video producer offer all concerned a million bucks to relocate to Beyonceworld as soon as possible.
And how not to be in a good mood? The sun is shining, it’s Saturday morning, the bus is speckled with a few smokin’ hot chicks, and I´m on my way to meet The Fanautico Girlfriend, recently promoted from the rank of Potential New Light Of My Life. And a side note - The Fanautico Girlfriend, it seems to me, would not mind the reference to smokin’ hot chicks on the bus, being a smokin’ hot chick herself, and not only that – a smokin’ hot chick who likes football - Nautico (hence the name), not Santa, but at least it’s not Sport - and drinking and lying around on the sofa doing nothing.
It is a good thing to do, to go and meet The Fanautico Girlfriend downtown (another bonus! Downtown is the best of all the good places in Recife – bustling and noisy and ripe and thrilling) on a sunny Saturday, because it stops all the alone time, and while alone time can be good, it can also be bad, because with too much alone time comes too much thinking – thinking about Brazil, thinking about Recife and all the things that are wrong here, thinking about the stupid things people say (a recent favourite: blonde shiny toothed teenage burgher of glittering Avenida Boa Viagem, whose parents have spent a fortune on a luxurious apartment on the city’s most glorious seafront avenue, says she likes the beach, but not the beach a few metres in front of her house. She likes the beaches outside the city, down the coast, because the beach at Boa Viagem is full of negroes, arf, arf), about all the things I have done and not done and said and not said. The prospect of meeting The Fanautico Girlfriend downtown stops most of that (thought not all), and makes one think of other things – carne do sol and macaxeira frita washed down with a cold beer in The Banguê in Patio São Pedro, for example, and maybe a movie-with-popcorn after that.
But before all of this there is more important work to be done. There are many milestones in a man’s life, it seems to me – the first time he refuses to wear the vest his mammy has laid out for him, the first time he spatters the curtains with up throw following too much exuberant sauce guzzling, when he gets his first job, crashes his first car, uses a large bank loan to buy his first overpriced one bedroom apartment, etc, etc, etc.
A relic of 37 now, I have passed through many of these milestones (excluding any of the important ones, obviously, like getting married or having children). Many have brought joy, many sadness, some only sleepy indifference. But now comes the biggest one of all.
A small shopping arcade just off a side street near Avenida Conde Da Boa Vista. I walk up the dank stairs. A rat scuttles away into the shadows. The throbbing music from the street fades to nothing. It is dark inside, and the seven heads – all male, all youngish, all dark skinned – swivel and glare at me as I hover nervously. I go up to the counter. Is it here?, I ask. I have been waiting – long, dreary weeks. Just a minute, comes the answer. I wait some more while he checks. He comes back. It’s here, he says. He gives it to me. I hold it in my hand – a small, white square of plastic. I sense its weight, its warmth.
I walk out of the shop, back into the sunshine. I feel complete. Though also a little foolish – maybe the first almost 40 something member of the Inferno Coral, and certainly the whitest. But now – pennies and pounds, as they say – I´m Inferno até morrer. And who knows what it is - love, sunshine, or a small plastic card bearing the legend Grêmio Recreativo Torcida Organizada Inferno Coral - but my juices, creative and otherwise, have begun to flow again, and that can only be good news for me, if not for the handful of people who read these words.
* A generally witless article, it seems to me, that could have been written about almost any other major city in Brazil or the developing world in general. The central themes of the article are correct but obvious – that (a) there are a lot of homeless children in Recife, (b) there are a number of militias organised by unscrupulous, corrupt police officers, who for a fee can be hired to remove any pests from the streets, (c) Recife is a city that suffers greatly from violence and all the other social problems that arise from poverty and massive inequality of wealth. What is most objectionable is the lurid use of language - death squads, the killables, murder capital (probably not any more, actually, as such title changes hands pretty much every year - my money´s on Salvador or perennial heavyweight Vitoria (ES) to claim back the crown this year), the factual inaccuracies and lazy clichés (Recife is not Brazil’s fourth biggest city, it’s number six or seven, and what the hell has carnaval got to do with any of this?), the probably entirely fictitious conversations with unnamed “sources” - he had a silver handgun in his belt which he took out and carefully ensured it was unloaded before he laid it on the seat between us – oh no he didn’t! oh yes he did! oh no he didn’t! etc.
Most blackhearted of all, I would think, is that this article appeared in the same week as a recent publication of statistics showing that violence in Recife has been declining for the last three years, albeit slowly, since the introduction of various governmental social programmes (Pacto Pela Vida for example) and the general improving of things for the lowest social classes in the city (and the country as a whole) through an expanded welfare state and rising minimum wage. For a truer, more complete picture of how things were and are in Recife and Brazil, read Peter Robb’s A Death In Brazil, and not lazy one-off soundbites by feature journalists on a deadline who, with nothing much else to write about, use the lives and deaths of Recife´s lost souls to generate a few blood soaked headlines.