Sunday, 13 September 2009


In Travels With Herodotus (of which more later), Ryszard Kapuscinski says of Algiers - I had never been to a city where nature is so kind to man. For it offered everything all at once – the sun, a cooling breeze, the brightness of the air, the sliver of the sea. To which the only thing I would say is that Ryszard obviously never visited Recife in September. Right now it’s about 1.00pm, or at least it was when I was writing this, and the sky is a silly bright blue, with the sea down in front of the house (albeit across a couple of busy roads and a gaggle of bars and restaurants) a thick full green and further out still a deeper blue again. A few glittering palms whisper above my head, and it feels like the last time I saw a rain cloud was in 2006. Guinness The Dog is back from the vet’s and dozes at my feet. Birds twitter. In short - all that kind of crap, for those, as Jernigan says, in the mood to be impressed by such things.

I’ve taken to swimming (though not with bow-legged women) of a night in the pool of a private school in Boa Viagem (oh the shame of it), and it’s nice to dive into the cool water and float on one’s back and look up at the big harvest moon. What with the Ferrari and the Fanautico, there is pressure to do things at the weekend, and so most Sundays we hobble off to one of Pernambuco’s several dozen dazzling beaches - down the coast to Tamandare or Calhetas or Carneiros, up the coast to Mangue Seco.

I don’t know if I should feel guilty about having such a not unpleasant life (I feel guilty about most things – shabby middle class upbringing (shabby middle class being a new social class I’ve heard about (or made up), because as we all know the middle class is too big to have any real meaning anymore and so needs to be sliced up into several pies, and shabby middle class seems to describe as well as any a comfortable enough childhood but one where papai made his heap of dubious bucks through corrupt policemanning, back breaking buildering and slum landlording and where papai and mamae were both from the interior Irlandes and so accustomed to sleeping several hundred to a bed and having the crapper a few kms or so from the back door and considered putting ketchup on their toast quite the delicacy), sexual activity of any sort, smoking, drinking) when around me there are lakes and rivers of poverty. I suppose I don’t, finally, because none of the above involves a great deal of money, or at least is not outside the reality of many people who live in Recife – the Ferrari cost r$4,000, which might make it the cheapest Ferrari in the world (if it was a Ferrari) and might still make it the cheapest 1992 Fiat Uno in Brazil, the house with the view of the sea is in a down at heel neighbourhood which may or may not be called something Branco, and the rent is reasonable, and the beaches, of course, are free. Plus I’m still wasting my time teaching a few good young Christian soldiers in Jordão for nowt, and hand out great dollops of change in the street whenever and wherever I’m asked for it. And I try to think about things as much as I can (which I’m sure must come as a great comfort to Brazil’s underprivileged) and not say things like well the problem with Brazil is the poor people you see, and I would vote Lula if I could, and Djilma too. Which just leaves the swimming club as my let them eat cake moment. Did anyone go to hell for swimming? And even if I do go to hell, it’s better than watching my booze belly grow until it blocks out the sun.

Though who cares about all that anyway. What is much more important is that Santa Cruz…only joking, ha ha. No Santa today, or for the foreseeable future, unfortunately. What is more important is that all is quite rotten in the state of the down at heel neighbourhood which may or may not be called something Branco. The Baiano and A Gata Do Bairro aren’t talking because The Baiano’s woman is insanely jealous of AGDB. AGDB tells me that she hates Woman With Big Glasses And Fat Husband because WWBGAFH is a squirrelly gossip and once told everyone that AGDB had sold her own virginal (and lesbyterian) daughter to another big shoe for sexual pleasure. AGDB (who seems rather over-involved in neighbourhood gossip) is suing Moustache for slander because Moustache got shipwrecked one night and stood in front of AGDB’s house announcing to sundry and all that AGDB was a common hussy who would sleep with anyone who had 10 centavos to spare and that AGDB’s husband, the tricolor, was a miserable cuckold. And then there’s Papai Noel, who loves nothing better than to leave presents in front of his neighbours’ houses – broken CDs, piss-stained mattresses, bags of rotting vegetables, coke bottles and the like. Tension seethes like tension around the little square and up the alley – though not so you’d notice, because most days everyone smiles and each other and says bom dia and tudo bem as required.

One night I’m ambling home (all this happened pre-Ferrari, you see) up the hill when AGDB (previously known as Mother Sururu, for the benefit of veteran readers) calls me over.

I’ve got something to say to you, she whispers, eyes scanning the street for Montagues or Capulets.

Ok, I say.

No, not now.

I sigh. We wait a bit. A large Eastern European country splits into several smaller republics. A number of world leaders serve a full term of office and seek re-election. A man who started reading The Idiot in 2005 reaches the last chapter. AGDB turns to me, then turns away again, several times.

Ok, ok. If you insist, I suppose I’ll have to tell you. People are saying things. More rolling and roving of eyeballs.

About?

About you and my daughter. Note: AGDB’s daughter (not the big shoe daughter, the other one) is 17, chunky thighed and chipmunk toothed. One of my favourite people in the down at heel neighbourhood which may or may not be called something Branco and long-time pal and even part-time feeder of Guinness The Dog, but as yet the object of no man’s panting sexual desire (or at least not mine). Let’s call her Bilbo, for no good reason.

Bilbo? I say, trying to make my voice make the sound of eyebrows rocketing over the top of a forehead.

Yes, says AGDB, giving me a steely look. Now I know it’s not true, and I know you’re a good person, but I just want to confirm it. So. Are you eating my daughter? (Note: Eating is a direct translation from the Portuguese. Unpleasantness of expression therefore not entirely my fault).

Um, no, I say, trying but failing to picture Bilbo in a state of undress, and then struggling not to laugh.

I knew it, says AGDB. I knew that bitch WWBGAFH was just causing trouble. I’m going to break her face all up!

Bilbo comes out into the garden. She is wearing a baseball cap backwards and looks a bit like Eminem’s stockier 12 year old brother.

I’m going to go and have a shower, I say to AGDB and Bilbo. If you want to come over later, Bilbo, maybe we can…you know…(insert suggestive facial expression of choice).

There is laughter.

But still, someone had been saying it, on the basis that Bilbo comes to my house once a week when I’m out of the house for long periods of time and feeds Guinness. This, and the fact that I am a gringo and unmarried whilst being in my middle (ok, late) thirties and live alone, which makes me a more suspicious neighbour than Son of Sam, is enough. This, plus of course the mental fertility of those who have bog all to do all day except stand around and think about the lives of their neighbours.

AGDB’s husband, the tricolor, needs to sate his own curiosity. I’m going to ask you only once, and I already know the answer, and anyway I wouldn’t blame you if it was true (here passes a lewdish smirk across tricolor’s face), and I wouldn’t mind anyway because you’re a good lad, but I need to be sure. Are you eating my daughter?

The I wouldn’t blame you if it was true and I wouldn’t mind anyway because you’re a good lad might be my favourite bit of the story. Wouldn’t mind? That a grizzly 37 year old gringo was mucky touching and playing sweaty lying down crazy golf with your 17 year old daughter? Now there’s liberal parenting for you, or maybe it’s just Brazil.

For fuck’s sake, tricolor, I say, shouting and laughing at the same time. Of course I’m not. Bilbo? Are you crazy? (trying to sound incredulous but at the same time not too incredulous, because that would be rude).

Right then, says tricolor. And he marches off up the alley to confront WWBGAFH.

The next episode comes courtesy of the Fanautico. Preparing to take a post-coitus (Bilbo has not joined us) shower, she hears whispering in the alley. It is WWBGAFH and an unidentified neighbour.

He says he’s going to take me to court for saying things about his daughter! The corno tricolor! Well if he’s going to sue me, I’ll sue him first, and I’ll sue the gringo too!

Fanautico turns on the shower and the whispering drifts away down the alley.

Me! I say, when the Fanautico tells me the story. What the Santa have I done? The Fanautico shrugs and turns on the telly, where a novela is showing, though not one as interesting as this.

Though disappointingly for all involved the scandal soon fades away. WWBGAFH seems to accept that no-one was eating anyone, and nods sheepishly to me now whenever we pass in the street. AGDB tries to stretch things out a bit by suggesting that I and the Fanautico stopped talking to her and Bilbo after everything had settled down, because the Fanautico was jealous of Bilbo and believed the story. Bollox and balderdash, I tell AGDB, and she reluctantly lets the novela drizzle to an end. Reluctantly, I suppose, because there might not be all that much going on in the world of the down at heel neighbourhood which may or may not be called something Branco, and therefore scurrilous spicy gossip adds a bit of a fizzle to everyday life.

And then we all switch over the channel and watch something else.

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